Stephane Wrembel’s Django Experiment


Stephane Wrembel’s latest album is Django Experiment VI.

(Photo: Casey Ryan Vock)

French-born guitarist-composer Stephane Wrembel, a true Django-phile at heart, is that rare artist who gives his audience food for thought as well as machine-gun-like streams of single notes. In between burning renditions of “Minor Swing” or “Limehouse Blues,” the insatiable reader and lover of philosophy will invariably suggest books to read, from Nietzsche to Plato to Greek mythology.

During a mid-March live streaming event from the French Institute Alliance Francaise’s Florence Gould Hall in New York, Wrembel also referred to British ethologist Richard Dawkins, whose 1976 book The Selfish Gene is also the title of one of Wrembel’s own compositions from 2012’s Origins, which he showcased that evening with his working band of rhythm guitarist Thor Jensen, electric bassist Ari Folman-Cohen and drummer Nick Anderson.

And while he regards Dawkins as “grumpy but very artistic and brilliant,” Nietzsche is Wrembel’s main man. “It’s something you must read,” he said. “First, there is the beauty of the language in which it’s written. It’s such a high level of writing. Everything that he says is so well crafted and poetic, and the power of his thoughts is just incredible.

“Nietzsche was a genius. Most people don’t know that he also composed a lot of music for piano. He was very fine musician, a very fine thinker, and when you read Nietzsche it will affect the way you see the world.”

Since moving to New York in 2003, Wrembel has been waving the flag for Django Reinhardt, his biggest inspiration and the focal point of his annual Django A Gogo festival, which has brought together some of the finest musicians in the world, equally influenced by Reinhardt, to celebrate the Sinti guitar style. While his 12th annual festival went on without a hitch in 2019, the 13th was a smaller, strictly virtual event due to the pandemic. He is planning to resume the annual tradition at Town Hall on Jan. 22, 2022, the day before Django’s birthday.

Meanwhile, January 2021 saw the release of his Django Experiment VI, the latest in his ongoing tribute series, which he launched in 2017. To coincide with that release, Wrembel livestreamed a concert with his core band, along with guest violinist Daisy Castro and clarinetist Nick Driscoll, from Café Lenna in Saratoga Springs, New York, where they delivered faithful renditions of Django tunes like “Impromptu,” “Naguine,” “Swing de Paris” and “Nuages.” As the guitarist noted, “With Django Experiment, we stay strictly within a certain framework. You play Django’s music and that’s just the way it is. But when I play my music, I do whatever I want.”

And that’s where Wrembel’s other guitarist influences come out. As he explained. “My big guitar guys growing up were Mark Knopfler, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa. I also loved Steve Vai and Joe Satriani and, in fact, learned Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien note for note. But when I finally paid closer attention to Django’s music, it struck me like lightning how incredible it was. I still love to listen to everything from Ralph Towner to classical guitar to Pink Floyd. But, to me, guitar is just one integrated thing and Django just helps to understand the instrument better.”

Wrembel has remained productive through 2020 and early 2021. With his gigs canceled, he focused on doing a book of transcriptions of 17 solo guitar pieces by Reinhardt, all of which he had previously recorded on 2019’s Django L’Impressionniste. “These are very obscure pieces that Django recorded between 1937 and 1953,” Wrembel said. “I took the opportunity of the lockdown to do that book, to learn to teach online and to start practicing classical guitar, which is a brand new technique for me. And I also took this opportunity to read my philosophy, of course.”

Nietzsche, anyone? DB

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