Indie retailer Amoeba Music will launch its own label April 18 with three releases, two of which are from acts associated with the Gypsy swing pioneered by Django Reinhardt in France in the 1930s and ’40s. Those acts, led by the guitarists Robin Nolan and Stephane Wrembel, are among the few that have used the Reinhardt sound as an opening salvo rather than a master plan, making Friday’s concert a rare night surrounded by Reinhardt’s aura and much more than note after note of allegiance.
The grand poobah of the night, actually, was the inventive mandolinist David Grisman, who guested with — and elevated — all three of the swing-based outfits. Grisman has spent 30-plus years melting together the sounds of Parisian nightclubs from the 1930s and Appalachia in the ’40s and early ’50s with the spirit of jazz experimentation exported from New York in the 1960s; Wrembel is ready to follow his lead.
Wrembel’s band, which included Grisman and a percussionist with a lap-held instrument, leaped furthest from the Reinhardt mold. The Gypsy legend’s trademarks are present — the dazzling chording, the romanticism, the swing and the eye-popping virtuosity — yet Wrembel’s compositions stretch out like a long conversation, with dips in tempos and textures ranging from the furious to lone elongated notes. The music bubbles without getting frothy — he distinguishes himself from the other acts by making evident a John Coltrane-ish search for a moment of musical nirvana when the quartet operates as one. They sure came close.
Nolan, whose instore at Amoeba last year was a dazzling display of virtuosity, lies back and makes for an exquisite accompanist behind Brandi Shearer. She is a splendid singer — their act will certainly delight Madeleine Peyroux fans — and the gentleness of their show certainly plays up the romance inherent in this music. Shearer is an exemplar of understatement on “Glory of Love” and “Settin’ the Woods on Fire,” hewing very close to the sultry versions on her forthcoming record.
Youngsters known as the Gypsy Kidz opened the night with some terrif playing led by guitarist Sammo Miltich. Quartet features Grisman’s son Samson on bass, and when dad sat in on “Minor Swing,” the band played as a community rather than a collection of highly capable soloists.