Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Stephane Wrembel Releases a Lavish, Charecteristically Edgy New Romany Jazz Album at Drom Tonight

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel made a name for himself as a stormy, erudite interpreter of Django Reinhardt, but his own body of work encompasses far more than that, using Romany jazz as a stepping-off point for his own distinctive ventures into Middle Eastern sounds and psychedelic rock. His lavish, dynamically rich, often poignant new double cd The Django Experiment is streaming at youtube. Disc one is mostly an imaginative mix of Django classics; disc two is mostly originals, in more of a jazz vein than what audiences get at his ongoing, legendary most-every-Sunday night 9 PM-ish residency at Barbes. He’s playing the album release show tonight, June 10 at 8 PM at Drom; hopefully by now you have your $15 advance tickets because it’s an extra five at the door.

The first disc opens with Nuages, Wrembel’s elegantly spare, resonant lines over Thor Jensen’s spring-loaded rhythm guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen’s bass and Nick Anderson’s drums. Wrembel takes somewhat the opposite approach with his tremolo-picking on the waltz Gin-Gin, then he and Folman-Cohen have fun working the chromatic edges of Bouncin’ Around, a close cousin to Brother Can You Spare a Dime.

Nick Driscoll’s clarinet spirals around and intertwines artfully with Wrembel on the jaunty Dinette. By contrast, Wrembel and Jensen max out the modal melancholy in a majestically spacious take of Troublant Bolero, up to a characteristically careening crescendo. It makes a good segue with the first of Wrembel’s originals, Windmills, a brisk, deliciously broodng waltz.

The band goes back to the Django catalog for a bubbly, lickety-split take of Place de Broukere, followed by the bucolic desolation of Carnets de Route,Wrembel’s moodily magical mashup of Django and Pink Floyd. The up-down dynamics continue with the coyly strutting Djangology and then Wrembel’s plaintively mined take of Sasha Distel’s Ma Premiere Guitare. Disc one winds up with Wrembel’s wistful waltz Jacques Prevert followed by a roller-coaster ride through Django’s Minor Swing. the bandleader channeling Wes Montgomery up to a mightily plucked bass solo and finally a stampede out.

The second disc begins with the epically vamping Douce Ambience. It perfectly capsulizes the confluence of Middle Eastern modalities and Romany swing that Wrembel first began mining around ten years ago, the guitarist’s understated unease in contrast with Driscoll’s relentless centrifugal force on soprano sax, Anderson taking it out with a long hailstorm of a solo. Viper’s Dream is pretty close to the Django version, with a little wryly bouncing Tal Farlow thrown in.

A waltz by Bamboula Ferrret benefits from Wrembel’s judicious, occasionally tremolo-picked phrases mixed into an attack that’s equally precise and resonant: all those notes don’t just vanish into thin air. Boston, another waltz, begins wistfully, grows more elegaic and then Wrembel builds a long, growling upward drive. Then the band flips the script with the toe-tapping shuffle Double Scotch, Driscoll adding dixieland effervescence.

Reinhardt’s midtempo stroll Tears reveals itself here as the source of a Beatles hit that Big Lazy likes to take even deeper into the shadows. Nanoc, which is Wrembel’s Caravan, opens with a levantine slink and slithers further off the rails from there. Then he makes a surreal juxtaposition with Django’s Louis Jordan-influenced Heavy Artillery, which is anything but. After that, Minor Blues is middle ground, more or less, Wrembel adding an understated intensity, part Wes Montgomery, part psychedelic rock, with a long, practically frantic sprint out.

Interestingly, the album’s best track isn’t one of the barn-burners but Wrembel’s slow, hushed, allusively flamenco-ish Film Noir. Raising the ante again, Driscoll’s clarinet infuses Songe d’Automne with an indian summer breeze. The final cut is the enigmatically balmy ballad Anouman, ironically the closest thing to straight-up postbop here. Over and over, Wrembel reaffirms his status as paradigm-shifter and one of the world’s most engaging, original innovators in Romany guitar jazz.

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June 10, 2017 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ameranouche at 68 Jay St. Bar in Brooklyn

Much as a lot of New York clubs exploit musicians, there are other venues that actually support and nurture scenes: Barbes, with its global talent base; the Jalopy’s oldtime Americana roots crew; punk rock at ABC No Rio; jazz at Smalls. Count 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo on this short but crucial list. If Jan Bell (a poignant and potent Americana singer and tunesmith herself) has booked a band for one of the bar’s Wednesday and Saturday night shows, that’s a guarantee that the music will be good. Saturday night the attraction was New Hampshire gypsy jazz act Ameranouche. Make as many jokes about bands from the boondocks as you want, but Boston and Portland, Maine have been hit just as hard or even harder by the blight of gentrification as New York has, so maybe the Granite State talent that in years past would flee to those towns at the first opportunity is staying put now and making do with what they have.

When the trio first hit the stage, the bar was pretty empty: by the time they’d finished their first set, it was hopping, in both senses of the word. Bassist Xar Adelberg locked into a terse, fluid swing pulse that anchored the hypnotic staccato rhythm of guitarist Ryan Flaherty while lead guitarist Richard Sheppard spun off one spiraling shower of sparks after another. What differentiates this band from the scores of other Django Reinhardt devotees out there is their originality. They played Swing 69 early on and that did one pretty much straight up: for a lot of reasons, it doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room unless you make it punk, or reggae, or something vastly different than the original. After another Django number, the band went into their own catalog for a scurrying train-whistle tune: listening to what was essentially a two-chord jam, it was like being on a comfortable night express surrounded by friendly people drinking beer. The next song had an eerie tinge, with tritones; after that, they took the groove in a funk direction, Flaherty muting his strings just enough to produce a tinny tambourine-like timbre, an unexpectedly cool contrast with Sheppard’s lightning, incisive sixteenth-note runs. A slinkier shuffle, a bluesier number and then their fastest song of the night followed. As you would expect, Ameranouche tour frequently; if gypsy jazz is your thing – if you’re a fan of Stephane Wrembel, especially – they’re a band you need to know.

November 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, gypsy music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The NY Gypsy Festival Closes Summerstage With a Blast of Sound

Year after year, the NY Gypsy Festival remains one of New York’s most consistently exciting concert series. There are four shows remaining, all of them at Drom: flamenco band Espiritu Gitano on the 30th; eclectic world dance group Delhi 2 Dublin on October 1; ferocious Balkan brass with Veveritse Brass Band and Zlatne Uste on the 2nd, and the Django Reinhardt tribute on the 3rd with Stephane Wrembel and Balval. A festival pass is $32, which translates to $8 a show, or about six bucks a band. But a vastly more persuasive enticement for prospective concertgoers was put on display Sunday at Central Park, with upbeat and often deliriously fun performances by a global cast including Yuri Yunakov, Tecsoi Banda, the NY Gypsy All-Stars and Mahala Rai Banda.

Yunakov hails from Bulgaria, where he famously collaborated with the legendary Ivo Papasov. Wedding gigs there got out of hand when literally thousands of people would crash the party to see them. Running his alto sax through a glistening veneer of reverb and delay, his tone was so close to a string synthesizer at times that it was hard to differentiate between him and his two keyboardists. But when he’d light into a casually frenetic solo riddled with lightning, chromatic doublestops, there was no doubt it was him. In fact, everyone in the band made it look easy, including his sparring partner, clarinetist Salaedin Mamudoski and also his percussionist, who kept a smoothly sputtering clatter going throughout the set, adding a hypnotic edge. Chanteuse Gamze Ordule joined them as they introduced her with a tongue-in-cheek striptease theme and added a bracing, throaty insistence as she swayed and undulated out front. One of her vocal numbers bounced along on almost a reggae bassline; another was a punchy, cocek-style dance. For all the ominous, brooding minor keys and bracing chromatics, it was a party, as the growing line of dancers to the left of the stage made absolutely clear.

Tecsoi Banda had made their North American debut the night before at the Ukrainian National Home, but they hit the stage ready to party again. Like American blues musicians of the 1920s and 30s, they’re all-purpose entertainers. They’ll do a Russian Orthodox wedding, a Jewish one, it doesn’t matter: they’re sort of the ultimate Ukrainian roots band. With Joska Chernavets on accordion, Ivan Popovych on fiddle, Vassili Gudak sadly pretty much inaudible on his tsymbaly (a kanun-style hammered dulcimer), bass drum player/singer Juri Chernavets with his little plastic mouth flute that he’d occasionally squawk on like a Jamaican with a whistle at a reggae show, and American klezmer fiddler Bob Cohen sitting in and adding a brisk intensity, they ran through a mix of upbeat and more stately material. As far removed from Ireland and Appalachia as their music is, there were familiar licks and melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in an Irish reel or a bluegrass breakdown. They used a lot of dynamics, varying their tempos, going doublespeed and then back again. Their best numbers had a somber, minor-key klezmer tinge; they closed with a couple of scurrying Carpathian dances, the second one finally featuring a funny solo from the drummer’s mouth flute.

The NY Gypsy All-Stars had the most modern sound, which ironically gave them the most authenticity of any of the acts on the bill: their fusion-tinged bounce is the one you’ll find in clubs all the way around the Black Sea. Compounding the irony is that they kept it very terse: Jason Lindner’s electric piano and Pangeotis Andreou’s five-string electric bass never took it to Jaco-land. Frontman/clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski is one of this era’s giants of the instrument – check him out sometimes with the Grneta Duo +1 with Vasko Dukovski and intense pianist Alexandra Joan for his more austere, purist side. Like Yunakov, he has blistering speed, but he doesn’t make it look easy: there’s an untamed, feral side to his playing that contrasted well with guest Selim Sesler (a frequent sparring partner). Sesler may be known as the Coltrane of the clarinet but his style is closer to vintage Lee Konitz, or for that matter, Miles Davis, and he chose his spots to cut loose against Lumanovski’s barrages. The rapidfire rivulets flowing from Tamer Pinarbasi’s kanun added yet another layer of turbulence, a very good thing considering the slick sonics.

By the time the headliners, Mahala Rai Banda (which in Roma, the gypsy language, means “hot ghetto band”) hit the stage, the occasional drizzle had subsided and the arena was clearly filled to capacity, most everyone dancing. The eleven-piece Romanian brass orchestra may play traditional instruments, but their vibe is pure gypsy punk (Gogol Bordello, naturally) with a frequent ska beat and the occasional hint of reggae or hip-hop. And with all those horns, the sound is titanic: they use them the way Gogol Bordello use guitar, at full volume. Accordionist Florinel Ionita is their lead player, blasting through one supersonic, microtonal riff after another, Peter Stan style, with the pulse of the tuba and the drum skulking behind the horns’ chromatic assault. They even did a song with an oldschool disco beat – for whatever reason, the crowd decided that was the time to pelt the band with the cheap foam rubber frisbees that were being handed out (BAD idea). Another hitched an oldschool American soul feel to a dancehall reggae interlude. But the best was what they started with, three blistering, anthemic minor-key numbers that shifted tempo suddenly, hitting the crowd with a trick ending and then restarting when least expected. They ran out the clock until their last second of stage time with a long series of outros: the crowd wanted more but didn’t get them, sending this year’s Summerstage series out on a deliriously high note.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | concert, folk music, gypsy music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Steeve Laffont – Swing for Jess

Sizzling gypsy jazz with lots of innovative flourishes from the French guitarist and his inspired band. Steeve Laffont is in fact of Roma ancestry; his first instrument was keys. Self-taught as a guitarist, he has a refreshingly original style. It’s not known what if any his affinity for Americana is, but there’s a soaring, blue-sky western swing feel to much of this, a welcome change from the legions of well-meaning but slavish Django imitators. There are places on the album that frequently evoke the paradigm-shifting work of Stephane Wrembel, but Laffont is a lot sunnier. On this new album, his second as a solo artist, he’s backed by a brisk, non-nonsense band of Rudy Rabuffetti on rhythm guitar, Serge Oustiakine on bass and violinist Costel Nitescu guesting on all but three tracks.

The title cut is a characteristically bristling swing number. Mano, one of the three Django covers here gets a spiky whistle-stop treatment. A lickety-split version of Old Man River is rendered almost unrecognizable with Laffont’s playful hammer-ons and dizzying, circular chromatics. Meggie Style, a Rabuffetti composition, is a 12/4 ballad that gives the violin and bass to get expansive and build atmosphere.

One of the most imaginative tracks here is Astor Piazzolla’s signature song, Libertango – Laffont traces its roots straight back to Spain, giving it a staggered flamenco treatment. Their fast shuffle version of Oh Samba Leo manages to echo both Steve Cropper and George Benson; they slow things down with the Laffont original Djazz, a vividly nostalgic ballad with a Georgia on My Mind feel guitar against a lush string section, then an aptly wistful violin solo. The album wraps up with the band blasting through Ain’t Misbehavin’ and then the old George Shearing ballad I Remember April, each one a springboard for Laffont’s sizzling triplet runs offset by a wry bluesiness. Keep your eye on this guy – he’s only going to get better.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Stephane Wrembel at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 1/24/09

It may have been one of the coldest nights of the year so far, but Stephane Wrembel took the opportunity to reaffirm his status as one of the most exciting, innovative guitarists in any style of music. As an interpreter of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz, he has few if any equals, but it’s his originals that shift the paradigm and pull the listener in the fastest: he brings as many diverse influences, from country to the Middle East, to his gypsy jazz as he brings Django moves to groove-jazz and rock. With the earring and the ponytail, he’s looking more manouche than he used to, but he’s expanded his repertoire exponentially beyond what was already a deep songbook when he first found a foothold here about five years ago. Playing his acoustic-electric with just a touch of natural distortion through the characteristically crystal-clear Spikehill sound system, he roared and stomped through a completely adrenalizing set of classic covers and originals.

 

While Wrembel is terrific solo or in a small group, having a rhythm section and a second guitarist behind him as he did tonight frees him up to expand his ideas to the extent that he always probably wanted to but couldn’t when he was carrying so much more melody. His backing band was tremendous: a subtle, tasteful drummer who deftly carried on a call-and-response when the challenge arose, a bassist whose aggressive, on-the-beat pulse was matched by a warm, incisive melodicism, and a second guitarist whose fluid legato made a striking and apt contrast with Wrembel’s staccato intensity. They started out in purist, retro Django mode, Wrembel taking flight with his trademark lickety-split, spectacularly precise runs up and down the scale as the band scurried along behind him. Wrembel is famous for an anecdote about the guitar being a percussion instrument, and leaves no doubt about how he feels about getting the max out of his instrument.

 

About a half-hour into the set, Wrembel introduced an eerie two-chord vamp over a tango beat that the drummer played with his hands, the second guitarist delivering a warmly incisive solo followed by several rounds of smartly terse variations on the theme from the bassist. They closed on a high note with a long, riveting original number beginning in 6/8 time, Wrembel starting out hypnotic with something of a spaghetti western feel, Django as played by Calexico. As the band effortlessly held down the song’s circular theme, Wrembel hit his wah-wah pedal, building from meandering and exploratory to completely psychedelic. Then he picked up the pace with a fiery, flamenco-inflected passage, shades of a young, inspired Robbie Krieger. Roaring through his distortion pedal, he ripped through a frenetic series of scales a la Jerry Garcia, took a brief interlude for a musical conversation with the drummer and then took the song out with some blazing, frenetic chord-chopping. It’s hard to imagine another guitarist in New York who can match such scorching intensity with as much of a purist melodic sensibility: Wrembel may play an awful lot of notes, but in the end they all count for something. Wrembel maintains a very busy schedule, so you have no excuse not to check him out at some point: lately he’s been playing Bar Tabac at 8 on Fridays and then at Barbes at 9 on Sundays, with frequent Spikehill dates as well.

January 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment