Practitioners of what's known as jazz manouche, gypsy jazz, or hot jazz are a peculiar breed: the style is pretty much an ongoing homage to prodigious Belgian-born French guitarist Django Reinhardt, who developed a distinctive and influential sound during a career cut short by a brain hemorrhage in 1953, when he was 43. The music he developed with violinist Stephane Grappelli is thrilling and fast-paced, propelled by joy, technical derring-do, and nonchalant bravado. Jazz artists are usually judged by their originality, but for Django adherents the object is usually to replicate the master's playing as closely as possible. A few practitioners of jazz manouche do try to bend that classic sound, though, among them French-born, New York-based guitarist Stephane Wrembel, who brings his band to the Green Mill this weekend.
Earlier this month Wrembel released two albums, The Django Experiment I and The Django Experiment II (both on Water Is Life), whose repertoire is dominated by Reinhardt tunes—duh!—with a scattering of Wrembel originals and a few pieces drawn from early American jazz. Wrembel's agile quintet does depart from the formula in compelling ways: his tune "Carnets de Route," for example, is a modern jazz ballad whose nimble phrasing and pacing borrows from folk-pop, and a reading of Reinhardt's "Douce Ambiance" opens with a thoroughly contemporary, delightfully loose flurry, as if the musicians were homing in on their target. You can check it out below.
To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.
Wrembel's terrific band—fellow guitarist Thor Jensen, bassist Ari Folman Cohen, drummer Nick Anderson, and reedist Nick Driscoll—can work in lockstep with him, providing a peerless foundation for his extended flights, but when they get their own chances to solo, they all express signature styles of their own. It's often in those moments that the ensemble pushes back most successfully against Django orthodoxy. The full band (sans Driscoll) performs this weekend.