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Django A Gogo 2017 Music Festival

Peter Jurew By

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Django A Gogo 2017 Music Festival
Carnegie Hall
New York, NY
March 3, 2017

Stephane Wrembel, the France-born, Berklee-educated guitarist now based in New Jersey, produced the first Django A Gogo festival in 2004 as a single evening to pay homage to Django Reinhardt. Since then, the "Gypsy Jazz" style of the genius guitarist, composer, co-leader of the original Quintette du le Hot Club de France and progenitor of the genre, has continued to seep steadily across the cultural landscape. There are stringed instrument-based "Hot Clubs" of Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and numerous other American cities playing high-level interpretations of the repertoire to delighted audiences. A peak moment for the school of "Djangology" was Wrembel himself appearing at the 2012 Academy Awards to play his original composition, "Bistro Fada," the theme song for Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

A more recent high point for the music—and for Wrembel—came March 3. That day, Wrembel's Water Is Life label released two CDs, The Django Experiment I and The Django Experiment II, both recorded in April, 2016, and reviewed elsewhere on All About Jazz.

That evening, Wrembel's tenth edition of Django A Gogo captivated New York Carnegie Hall with two sets of Reinhardt and Reinhardt-influenced music played by a genre-stretching all-star cast of guests backed by Wrembel's regular band.

Carnegie Hall and Gypsy Jazz are two thoughts one may not connect—the venerable concert hall being thought of as home ground for tuxedoed classical music virtuosi, while thoughts of bright, energetic Gypsy swing may bring to mind a Left Bank cellar in Paris. But for decades, going back to the historic 1938 Benny Goodman concert—the hall's first jazz program and its first program to feature African American artists—Carnegie Hall has seen more than its share of adventurous programming. Ignoring the hall's burdensome new self-designation as Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage, Django A Gogo raised the roof of the hallowed hall with two uplifting sets of music.

The first set opened with a beautiful solo piece by Wrembel called "Improvisation #1," before the large, beaming, pony-tailed Frenchman welcomed his band to the stage—Nick Anderson on drums, Thor Jensen on guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and Nick Driscoll on soprano sax—to play "Prometheus," another Wrembel composition. Wrembel's first guest of the evening was guitarist and vocalist David Gastine, a fellow Frenchman schooled in Django, who sang une chanson francaise, "Reverie." Wrembel's beautiful waltz from Midnight in Paris, "Bistro Fada," followed, and from that particularly Parisian moment the set took an unexpected detour out to the Colorado Rockies as Wrembel announced that Monsieur Gastine had always wanted to sing a John Denver song at Carnegie Hall. And so he did, belting out a fine, Gallic-inflected version of "Take Me Home, Country Roads"—to Denver fans in the audience, hearing the song sung at the fabled hall seemed to be "almost heaven."

The next guest to appear was Larry Keel, toting a steel string guitar that added flat picking to the band's gut-string guitar sound on "Troublant Bolero"—Jean "Django" Reinhardt meets Arthel "Doc" Watson! The great Gypsy guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg joined the festivities next for the Reinhardt-composed jazz standard, "Djangology" and "For Sephora," Rosenberg and Wrembel trading off thrilling, intricate, high-speed riffs and Keel tossing in exciting steel string runs of his own. More Rosenberg-Wrembel fireworks followed on "Blues Mineur," a master class in blowing up the limitations of Django guitar style.

Al Di Meola needed no introduction to the audience, receiving a warm welcome when he came on carrying not one but two beautiful acoustic guitars. Gracious and self-deprecating, the great jazz guitarist said the evening marked his first visit back to Carnegie Hall since he'd played there forty-one years ago with Chick Corea and Return to Forever—his first gig with the band. As Di Meola told the tale, he was nineteen and a sophomore at Berklee when he got the call from Corea asking him to come to New York that very night; young Al rushed out of Boston down to his parents' home in New Jersey and, when his father asked him what he was doing home, and the son told him the reason, Di Meola's father literally did not believe him.

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