Review by Steve Nover
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
As a fan of Django Reinhardt and fortunate enough to have twice seen Stephane Grappelli (who was lucky to live til 89 and able to perform almost til the end), I was full of expectations for Stephane Wrembel and band performing at The Egg in Albany last week. Billed as ‘Django A Go Go Festival,’ the show encompassed two sets; first was his five-piece, the second was his band with the addition of 5 guests – two violinists & three guitarists.
Wrembel had a rhythm section and a second guitar, but David Langlois on percussion was the wild card, as he had a washboard and woodblock with a selection of items that can be found at any 99 cents store. Playing with traditional thimbles on his fingers, it was a sound to me that was unusual in that context but was both welcome and at times comical. Wrembel is a native of France, but he graduated summa-cum-laude from Boston’s Berklee School of Music and his charming accent, combined with a gracious spirit, made him truly seem like one of the nicest people you’re likely to meet, especially when talking of the 10 men on tour as a joy with never an argument.
Performing his typical repertoire the opening set, the Django festivities kicked off the next with a usual order of solos from French violinist John Intrator, master guitarist Howard Alden, violinist Kyle Dillingham from Oklahoma, then either of the guitarists: Sebastien Felix or Biel Ballester from Spain.
One of the links to Stephane and two musicians is Woody Allen; Alden did guitar work in “Sweet and Lowdown” (you didn’t think it was Sean Penn, did you?). And in concert he performed two selections solo, including one that was not used in the film. Stephane scored “Midnight in Paris,” and both he and Biel worked on “Vicki Christina Barcelona.” Biel performed one piece solo.
Five guitars and a pair of violinists made for a string heaven with all those masterful fingers, and Kyle – the only one standing besides the standup bassist – got some of the biggest applause; he was also a hoot to watch as he contorted his body during his violin solos.
Three days before the show was the 102nd anniversary of Django Reinhardt’s birth. The Gypsy musician was born poor and at the age of 18, a fire caused him to only be able to use two fingers for solos and the other two only for chord work. Whether Wrembel can find the larger audience he deserves or not, keep your eyes and ears out for his next appearance. He’s a fantastic musician and graciously let the guests steal the spotlight in the second set. It’s not even February yet, but 11 months from now, if this show doesn’t make my Best Concerts of 2012 list, it will be an amazing year.