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“Winter is when nature dreams, it’s like nature is asleep and dreaming,” muses guitarist Stephane Wrembel. “I always found that winter is very romantic in a very subconscious way. Everything is bare and we need to be reborn. I think dreams are fabricated then.”
Deep thoughts from one of the world’s great guitarists, Stephane Wrembel, who specializes in the style of legendary composer/guitarist Django Reinhardt. Wrembel is playing a winter show at the Knickerbocker Music Center in Westerly Friday, February 11.
Gypsy Jazz, a genre made famous by Reinhart is one of the most innovative guitar styles ever developed. It’s a pure folk style, “of the people,” and learned best “in the field,” not necessarily at an academy, according to Wrembel.
Wrenbel lived and learned the folk tradition in Europe for many years before some formal schooling at the Berklee School of Music in Boston.
“It’s funny, my apprenticeship has been done in two ways,” he explains. “First with the Gypsies, in a living environment. There was not much structure – it was very chaotic, very traditional, and very alive.”
“And then I went to school and learned about this obsession for some theoretical ideas that are not even very good. They can be misleading and I think they are very destructive,” continued Wrembel.
“Later, I was fortunate to work with an old master in New York City where I learned the art of renaissance counterpoint and the art of traditional harmony, neoclassical harmony, what you find in Bach and Mozart. I was able to translate that to the guitar.
“I found while transcribing Django’s “Preludes,” a correlation between Django’s playing and something I learned from the old master about counterpoint and traditional harmony. So I came up with a new system, a new way of looking at the guitar, I think I have found something that no one has seen before, it was always there but with the help of Django, the neoclassical harmonies, and the classical guitar, I was able to find a system that works way better for improvising,” he explained.
Wrembel is somewhat critical of traditional academic programs and feels they sometimes take the joy out of playing.
“All that stuff about mods and such, it’s just gibberish, it’s a complication of something simple, and then you get lost in the complication and it gets more complicated. It takes the joy away from playing an instrument when it becomes an intellectual battle or something like that,” he argues.
Wrembel is perhaps best known for his composition “Bistro Fada” from the Woody Allen Academy Award-winning film, Midnight in Paris.
He’s been busy during the pandemic or “confinement” as the French native refers to it.
“Right before the confinement, I finished the music for Allen’s new movie, Rifkin’s Festival, and I learned to teach online which was amazing. I also created a series of over 200 Django play-along songs which are going to be released any day now. I’m planning to put them on YouTube and Spotify.”
Wrenbel explained that, with his band, no two concerts are alike.
“We are very sensitive to the vibes, when we play somewhere the season matters, the weather matters, but also the room, the sound, how we feel that day – we feel the crowd, everything matters. We are going to craft a show that the moment. We don’t really have a premade show or something like that. We have hundreds of songs to choose from. We choose the songs as the vibe goes, it’s a very organic and living system,” he says.
The band includes “some of the greatest players in the world,” Ari Folman-Cohen on bass, drummer Nick Anderson, and Josh Kaye, a “specialist on rhythm guitar.”
Birt & Harley, a guitar duo consisting of longtime friends John Birt and Dylan Harley, open the evening. Guitar fans, don’t miss this one!