Photos by Irene Ypenburg
Gypsy jazz guitarist extraordinaire Stephane Wrembel assembled an all-star group of musicians including Al Di Meola, Stochelo Rosenberg, Larry Keel, David Gastine, Ryan Montbleau, Thor Jensen, Ari Folman Cohen, Nick Anderson, and others at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium for an evening of superlative sounds billed as “Django a Go Go.” The concert coincided with the release of two new Wrembel recordings: The Django Experiment 1 and The Django Experiment 2 on Water Is Life Records. Mr. Wrembel is perhaps best known for “Bistro Fada,” the theme song from the 2011 Woody Allen Oscar-nominated movie, Midnight In Paris.
Born in Fontainebleau, Paris, the home of Impressionism and Django Reinhardt, he began studying classical piano at the age of four, discovered Pink Floyd in his teens, and was smitten by the music of Django soon after. To gain experience with “Sinti style” guitar, he spent extensive hours playing in gypsy camps outside of Paris. In 2000, he enrolled in Berklee College of Music in Boston, from which he graduated Summa Cum Laude, and moved to New York City in 2003. Looking for gigs, he called “every single restaurant and club in New York.” His persistence paid off, and he is now recognized as the local authority on Django’s style, and one of the finest guitarists in the world.
For the Carnegie Hall show, Mr. Wrembel began with a quartet and steadily augmented the group with all-star players as the evening progressed. Larry Keel seamlessly added to the mix with warm, woody tones reminiscent of his professed hero Doc Watson, and David Gastine sang “Country Roads” to the delight of the audience. The energy was kicked up several notches with the presence of Stochelo Rosenberg whose bright, crisp technique was the most traditionally “Djangoesque.” His fluidity, melody, and speed were consistently jaw dropping. The evening’s biggest guitar star, Al Di Meola, strutted onstage with two axes in hand. Mr. Di Meola humorously recounted telling his father how he was on his way to play Carnegie Hall at age 19; his father not believing a word of it. “And that was the last time I played Carnegie, until now” said Mr. Di Meola to audience laughter. As the flamenco inspired sounds of his composition “Mediterranea” echoed throughout the hall, the crowd was reminded why he is considered one of the world’s best.
After a brief intermission, Wrembel’s former Berklee colleague Ryan Montbleau took the stage to sing two numbers including the feel-good “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” accompanied by the breezy brass of soprano sax player Nick Driscoll. The band was at its best when it settled into the relaxed grooves of Django standards and hit all the right notes with the grand finale “Minor Swing.”
The setting was majestic, the show diverse and dynamic, but at times the rhythm section was a bit lost in the sonic boom of such a big room. One can envision the magic of seeing this music up close in a Parisian café. Fortunately, we needn’t travel so far. Despite a hectic touring schedule, Mr. Wrembel lives in the area and performs frequently in Brooklyn at Barbés and Bar Tabác. Catch him while you can!
For more information, see his website: www.stephanewrembel.com