(photo by Michael Weintrob)
(photo by Scott Berstein)
(photo by Scott Berstein)
(photo by Scott Berstein)
He has headlined at Lincoln Center, played major festivals, recorded with mandolin legend David Grisman, toured with master violinist Mark O’Connor and shared stages with everyone from Elvis Costello to Patti Smith to The Roots. The Gitane guitar company has even named a model after him.
Born in Paris and raised in Fontainebleau, the home of Impressionism and Django, Wrembel first studied classical piano at the age of four. “My teacher played with many renowned musicians,” he says. “She was very old school but she taught me how to interpret and how to make a phrase from beginning to end. My entire classical training from ages 4 to 16 was about how to interpret.”
In his mid-teens, Wrembel discovered that he had an affinity for guitar. “I started practicing very intensely,” he says. “I was a big Pink Floyd fan; that remains my favorite music. I spent hours learning David Gilmour’s style. When I was 17 I decided to become a professional musician. I knew I had to practice 18 hours a day and after I got my high school diploma I decided that’s what I was going to do. I had a classical background, a passion for rock music, and then I found out about Django. I fell in love with the very strong Impressionist feel in his music.”
To further his knowledge of music overall, and to gain experience, Wrembel immersed himself in the Gypsy culture. “When I first started going to the camps I learned that music is not only the notes,” he says. “There is an atmosphere to it. So by going there I started learning the atmosphere of what it really means to play Sinti style guitar. In the camps you play all day long, nonstop. You don’t learn technical things. The culture doesn’t use names for things; they just practice melody. By playing and playing and playing you get into a trance. The music just comes by itself.”
As he progressed as a player, Wrembel knew where he wanted to be in order to surround himself with expert, forward-thinking players. He enrolled in Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2000, graduated summa cum laude two years later and moved to New York in 2003. Now the big question was how to make a living doing what he loved. “Most musicians arrive in New York and they look for a job to make money,” he says. “But then they don’t have time to practice and they have to depend on something external for money. I arrived with no money and I said, ‘I have to find money right now. How do I do it?’ I called every single restaurant and club in New York. I went to every place with my rhythm player. We sat with the owners, talked, and played guitar. Then we’d get the gig."
Before long, word of this remarkable European transplant began spreading among fellow musicians and denizens of the teeming New York music scene. Reviewing his 2002 debut album, Introducing Stephane Wrembel, Vintage Guitar magazine praised the recording as “pure dazzle and dash, a stunning storm of notes that blankets the melody in a rain of arpeggiated notes.” Gypsy Rumble, released in 2005 with David Grisman among its guests, and the following year’s Barbes-Brooklyn, also found favor with critics. Time Out New York wrote that the latter “shows off Wrembel’s limber chops in a variety of settings, including ebullient French Gypsy swing, moody ballads, sultry raga-influenced numbers and a lithe cover of Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Afro Blue.’” Woody Allen used one of the album’s tracks, “Big Brother,” in his 2008 film Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Wrembel’s fourth album, Terre Des Hommes, was released the same year.
In addition to making a splash with his recordings, Wrembel has dazzled audiences at such major gatherings as the High Sierra Music Festival, the Berkshire Mountain Festival, Whistler International Music Festival and many others, as well as at Lincoln Center. He also created his own event, the annual Django A Go-Go Festival, where he and others influenced by Reinhardt celebrate the Sinti guitar style.
In May of 2012 Wrembel delivered Origins, his fifth album, recorded outside of New York City, where he has lived for nearly 10 years. Presciently titled, the album, which Wrembel recorded with his band—bassist Dave Speranza, rhythm guitarist Roy Williams, drummer Nick Anderson and percussionist David Langlois—finds the multi-faceted musician corralling a myriad of influences into a hybrid that simultaneously reflects where he has been, and points to where he has headed. Although he built his reputation as a stylist in the mode of the iconic French Sinti guitarist Django Reinhardt, Wrembel now revels in transcending and expanding. “I’m digging deeper and deeper into my roots,” he says about the album. But for these latest sessions, “I didn’t calculate anything. I just put down whatever came to me without thinking of this direction or that direction. I just said, ‘This is one song and this is another song.’ It brings to life all of the possibilities of the band.”
Although Wrembel certainly loves paying homage to his roots—hence the title Origins—and was happy to oblige when Allen’s producer requested “a work that would remind of the magic of Paris” for the Oscar-winning Midnight in Paris, he is in no way bound to his own past. Origins touches upon everything from blues to flamenco to rock; all of these influences come together as something identifiable only as Stephane Wrembel.
“I just play my own music,” he says. “I like to believe that it is beyond any one genre and that there is something in it for everyone. It’s not only for the rock music lover, or for the Django lover; it’s not only for the jazz lover, or for just young people or old people. It’s for the music lover.” Indeed, Origins is the most sophisticated representation to date of Wrembel’s superior compositional skills. Fleshed out by the superb musicians in his band, Wrembel’s melodies and beautifully framed song structures burst with panoply of textures and colors, moods and emotions. From the otherworldly, exotic opening track “The Voice from the Desert,” all the way through to the intense, slow-building finale “Carbon 14,” Origins is clearly a giant leap forward for Wrembel in terms of stylistic reach.
On tracks such as the ethereal, melancholy “Tsunami” - written in response to the devastating Japanese disaster of 2011, to the appropriately edgy lightning licks of “The Edge,” to the swinging, blues-informed “Les Puces de Batignolles,” Wrembel and his accompanists dig deep inside each melody. “Water is Life” demonstrates—much in the way that classic Pink Floyd did—that space and time are, like instruments themselves, tools at a musician’s disposal; “Train d’enfer” is dazzling in its manic pace; and “Voyager (for Carl Sagan)” pays tribute to a renowned dreamer by applying the late, great astronomer’s open-minded scientific outlook to music. And of course there’s “Bistro Fada,” the theme song from Midnight in Paris. The version showcased here is conversational in nature, classically French and precisely what Woody Allen wanted—yet simultaneously modern and universal as well.
“It’s a different state of mind altogether,” Wrembel says of Origins. “I always compose with a picture in mind. That Impressionism approach is the main thing that I’ve carried with me from Fontainebleau.”
David Speranza, originally from Portland, OR, plays double bass and lives in New York. He has been blessed with the opportunity to play with some really very fine players like Ingrid Jensen, Jon Wikan, Alan Jones, Randy Porter, Mel Brown, Nancy King, Todd Strait, Ron Steen and many more.
Influences include: Ray Brown, Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Israel Crosby, Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Eddie Khan, Butch Warren, Richard Davis, James Jamerson, Jaco Pastorius, Bootsy Collins, Alan Jones, Randy Porter, John Clayton, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dan Gaynor, Nancy King, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Ingrid Jensen, Jon Wikan, Jimmy Garrison, Count Ushlabu, Ahmad Jamal, Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, Mahler, They Might Be Giants, The Beatles, Krist Novoselic, John Paul Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Edgar Meyer, Stockhausen, George Tucker, Outkast, Cachao.
Born in San Diego, California, Nick Anderson began playing music on violin at age 8. By 11 years old, he started playing drums and in one year was performing with local punk bands. Through his teens he continued playing in the SD punk scene and, developed a strong interest in Jamaican ska and reggae music from the late 50's through the late 60's and beyond. By hearing the horn sections playing melodies and improvising and reading in liner notes how Jamaican ska musicians were influenced by jazz musicians from the states, Nick started discovering the music of Charlie Parker and of John Coltrane.
At age 20, he enrolled at Berklee College of Music where he studied with drummer John Ramsay. After Berklee, Nick moved to New York where he obtained his master's degree from NYU. While at NYU, he studied and/or performed with George Garzone, Wayne Krantz, Jean-Michel Pilc, Kenny Werner, John Scofield, and Joe Lovano.
Nick currently resides in Brooklyn and is active on the NYC jazz/improv scene with appearances at clubs such as: Blue Note, Smalls, 55 bar, Dizzy's, Barbes, the Stone, and many others. Nationally and internationally, he has appeared at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, JVC Jazz Festival, Marciac Jazz Festival (France), in Costa Rica, Italy, Germany, and various venues across the U.S.