BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Guitarist Stephane Wrembel is a versatile player with a toe in several permutations of jazz. But the French picker’s specialty is the swinging style of gypsy jazz as pioneered in the first half of the 20th century by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Wrembel underscores that notion with the two-volume The Django Experiment, a pair of disks made up mostly of Reinhardt compositions, along with some Wrembel originals in the same vein and tunes from Reinhardt’s contemporaries. Gypsy jazz has its own distinct flavor, revolving around jumping swing rhythms and a uniquely-toned acoustic/electric hybrid guitar style, and Wrembel doesn’t try to update or mess with the formula here. Smartly getting the elephant in the room – Reinhardt’s best-known tune “Nuages” – out of the way first, Wrembel and his four-piece band nimbly hop their way through the guitarist’s catalog. “Viper’s Dream,” “Minor Swing” (plus its spiritual companion “Minor Blues”) and “Djangology” trip the same wires as “Nuages,” letting the musicians show off a bit without impinging on the obvious fun everyone’s having. The less frenetic, more measured “Troublant bolero,” Wrembel’s “Film noir” and Sasha Distel’s “Ma premiere guitare,” meanwhile, show that gypsy jazz is about more than just dancing to fleet-fingered guitar solos.
Wrembel isn’t putting any new spins on this material or style. But there aren’t exactly a ton of folks putting gypsy jazz into practice in the first place, so he’s free to interpret Reinhardt as faithfully as he sees fit and still cut a distinctive figure.
DOWNLOAD: “Djangology,” “Minor Blues,” “Film noir”