French jazz guitarist, known for adding music to Woody Allen films, appears in Chicago

Stéphane Wrembel and his band at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, Friday April 22, 2022. (Photo credit: Lawrence Hartmann)

Chicago got a much-deserved boost Friday night, April 22 at 8:00 p.m. when the Stephane Wrembel Quintet took the stage at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, 4802 N. Broadway.

Wrembel, one of the world’s foremost interpreters of the music of famed Belgian jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, filled the tiered hall with his warm chords and smooth flavors. His band, consisting of a second guitarist, bassist, drummer and violinist, occasionally rocked Al Capone’s bar with a mix that sounded a bit like jazz, rock n’ roll and classical music, all in one delicious sound.

Besides being a performer of Reinhardt, Wrembel is also a composer of original music. This is delightfully apparent in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Rifkin’s Festival” (2022), for which Wrembel wrote the entire score.

Wrembel also contributed music to the Allen films “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011).

Music-loving Chicagoans, thirsty for good music and good drink after two years of pandemic restrictions, began flocking to the Uptown bar on April 22 at around 8:00 p.m., when the Wrembel Quintet concert began. At the end of the second set, the place, famous for its muted red and orange, was packed with a crowd ready to receive a touch of European magic.

In a brief interview between sets, I asked Wrembel how he would describe his music.

“I can’t describe it,” he said. “It’s my music. I think it’s really hard to describe the music. There are a few archetypes. But the rest is just music… (A) a lot comes from the dream life. You don’t have to sleep to dream.

Wrembel, 48, was born in Paris. He grew up in Fontainebleau, France, a town just southeast of the French capital. The guitarist currently lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, just outside of New York City, when he’s not delighting audiences around the world with his music.

In 2022, Wrembel and his band are set to play in places as disparate as California; Texas; Ohio; Quebec, Canada; and New York.

The Roma of Europe, also known as gypsies, seem to have played an important role in shaping Wrembel’s sound. For example, Django Reinhardt was of Romani-French origin. And Wrembel learned to play guitar at gypsy campsites in the French countryside.

I asked Wrembel what it was like learning his instrument at those gypsy campsites.

“It’s really like stepping into a different world,” he said. “Like taking a trip to a different world. Gypsies have such a different way of life. They’re so much closer to nature. And probably their humanity. Their minds aren’t all possessed by Western entrepreneurship. Their spirit is closer to the natural state of man.

Finally, I asked Wrembel what it was like working with director and writer Woody Allen.

First, he said, referring to Allen, “He was so organic.” Then, he continued: “My interactions with (Allen) and his team are very professional and human. Everyone has been so professional. And that’s rare in (this) industry.

“I love working with Woody Allen,” Wrembel said.

“I know what he has,” he said. “He knows what I have. But there’s a little surprise there. When you choose to work with the right people, you let the flow happen.

The Stephane Wrembel Quintet is scheduled to perform tonight, April 23, 2022, from 8:00 p.m. to midnight, at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, 4802 N. Broadway, Chicago. This is the last date scheduled for the group at the Moulin Vert this spring. The cover charge is $20. Cash only.

Stéphane Wrembel’s CDs are available at the bar, or through the bar waiters.

Stéphane Wrembel’s website is www.stephanewrembel.com.

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