It’s not that Gypsy jazz is amenable to experimentation, Stephane Wrembel seems to be saying with Django Experiment III (Water Is Life). Gypsy jazz is experimentation. After all, Django Reinhardt drew on existing music to create something new.
Though this set is heavier on the Experiment than on the Django half of the equation— there are only three tunes by Django and one by his younger brother Joseph here—Wrembel and his band show they can pay straightforward tribute to the master. Like a pot simmering but never boiling over, Django’s “Manoir de mes rêves” maintains a delicate tension, and the balalaika-like rattle of Wrembel’s guitar and Nick Driscoll’s coquettish clarinet enhances the easy swing of the much-covered “Nuages.”
Elsewhere, this album illustrates Django’s legacy unbound. On “Swing Gitan/Apocalypse,” the warp-speed flamenco-style guitars of Wrembel and Thor Jensen spiral in ever tightening circles. A drone like a mu’addhin’s call to prayer sets the guitars on a path like a crackling current climbing a Jacob’s ladder on “Les flots du Danube.” On Reinhardt’s “Flèche d’or,” Wrembel and Jenson’s rattling sweep-picking is bolstered by Driscoll’s trilling and dive-bombing clarinet. The guitarists pass the bebop baton back and forth as they stray into slipknot avant-garde territory.
Throughout, Wrembel stays true to his inspiration by rejecting notions of Gypsy jazz purism. In his hands, Django’s syncopated Sinti swing pulls everything from hard bop to the otherworldly squall of free jazz into its orbit.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.