Many thanks to my friends at Fada for introducing me to the Brooklyn-based French guitarist Stephane Wrembel. Wrembel’s online bio is worth a look – his most influential musical tutelage was in the gypsy guitar, and his credits include the theme for Woody Allen’s magic realist comedy Midnight in Paris, which he performed live at the Oscars. That he has a reputation as one of the world’s best gypsy guitarists should not, however, imply that he is bound by a traditional or folk repertory.
What I heard in several sets on Saturday night was vividly and exhilaratingly contemporary. It had drive and excitement and the ethos of time as the essence, of the lack of it and the need for it in modern life, the sense that there is no longer enough of it, that we must get as much in as possible when we have it, as we used to, before it became something that we must earn, despite the fact that we were born with it. That he accomplished this on the most democratic of instruments – in range, from classical to pop, and portability – is not surprising. But there was something in him that drove to the fore the idea that he was recuperating in the nimbleness and rapidity of his finger work the time that modernity has taken from the ordinary person.
Theatrically, it was fascinating that the other musicians, a bassist and another guitarist – facing him like secondary actors in a play focusing attention on the leading actor – were so absorbed not by, but –in- his sound. I was struck by the solidity of his stance, a torso all but immobile, facing the house straight-on, the head only slightly nodding, and the hands, those hands, with lives of their own like two things out of Maupassant, maddened as though on an electrified surface. The other players bounced and jived with the music, but Wrembel was a guest of stone at the party, his fingers reanimated by the gypsy spell of his talent.