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Stephane Wrembel: The Django Experiment V (Water Is Life)

A review of the guitarist's fifth volume of Django Reinhardt-inspired music

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Stephane Wrembel, The Django Experiment V
The cover of Django Experiment V by Stephane Wrembel

Several years ago, in an interview with this reviewer, Stephane Wrembel said, “My music is for everyone. It’s beyond genre. It’s not for the rock lover, it’s not for the Django lover; it’s not for the jazz lover and it’s not for young people or old people.” That quote came at a time when the guitarist was promoting an album of new original compositions, before he launched this series of Django Reinhardt-inspired recordings that’s now up to its fifth volume. That album was quite good, as is all of Wrembel’s own music, but—having been raised in Fontainebleau, France, where Reinhardt spent his last years—Django is too much a part of Wrembel’s blood for him to ever abandon the influence. The Experiment series brings out the best of Wrembel’s playing, and although only four of the nine tracks on this collection were actually written by the late Gypsy giant, Wrembel’s deep love of his predecessor’s style is apparent throughout.

Accompanied by a second guitar, bass, drums, and a saxophonist/clarinetist, with Daisy Castro guesting on violin, the leader brings a deft touch to his adaptations and approximations, and the others know precisely what they’re expected to do. Experiment V begins with a solo guitar take on Reinhardt’s “Improvisation #1,” more modern in execution than its composer would have thought to take it, but when the band kicks in on “Nympheas,” there’s no question whose music is being celebrated. Few of the other subsequent pieces veer appreciably; they’re not “Django-esque,” they’re full-on tributes.

It all comes together most masterfully, however, on the album’s most outré track, the 11-minute “Caravan” that closes it. The Juan Tizol/Duke Ellington classic has often been staged as a vehicle encouraging departure, and the entire ensemble—particularly Nick Driscoll on bass clarinet, Castro, and Wrembel himself—go to town, stepping out boldly while never losing sight of their goal.

Learn more about Django Experiment V on Amazon!

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Jeff Tamarkin

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Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.