Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Mali to Poland with some hoops in between

The past few days have been such a blur of basketball and music. A good blur, but where to begin?

In the "Hey, that was fun" department, I'll log my time at the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International Show at the Cedar Friday night. Lots of good grooves and enough tempo changes so a person could keep just going all night long. I wish they would've played a little longer; it seemed to me like the band was just starting to really get in the zone when they decided to wrap it up. The Afro-Cuban style encore was a treat, though.

Visual highlight: You may or may not know there is a unusual and growing collecting of stuff in the green room at the Cedar. Some left by past performers, some added by staff members over the years. Weird things to wear, weird things to put on stage...you know, stuff. So there is this plastic wig. Kinda reddish brown. Sort of a bun or low beehive?? look. The OBDBI drummer had that wig on throughout their set and it just cracked me up every time I looked at the stage. As (Cedar Operations Manager) Dave P. noted, it made him look like cross between James Brown and Etta James. Too funny. See the "Be a Brunette" style below.
Hope we will see this band regularly now that we've made each other's acquaintance.

In case you were wondering, my basketball teams did only OK. The highlight was being at the Target Center to watch Mpls South high school finally win the state 4A championship. With scrappy junior point guard Ty Smith on the bench on crutches, superstar Tayler Hill tore it up and went out in style with a record-tying 47 points.
Imagine me doing this, but in a slightly more tasteful orange and black getup.

I got a chance to talk to Tayler's big brother, Ohio State starting point guard P.J. Hill, so that was a little brush with stardom for me. It is weird to see somebody walking up the aisle toward you and think "I just saw you on national television last night!" Also spotted in the stands were Cedar sound guy Eric Hohn and KFAI dj Blanche "Fubar Ominiverse" Sibley.
Then taking the train back to South Minneapolis with a group of 8th graders was very entertaining in its own right. State tournaments are just a fun Minnesota thing to do. But we'll give the hoops a rest for a couple days now, OK?

Mali Madness

The next music event that made me really really happy was getting a hold of the new Amadou & Mariam disc, Welcome to Mali. As with their 2005 release, Dimanche a Bamako, it starts slow and simple and builds organically just like a party getting bigger and wilder. While I could do without the couple of tunes with English vocals("I Follow You" for example) - they were just very simplistic - there is some great stuff here. Those last two tunes with their Edgar Winter-esque organ riffs and driving guitars got hit with the replay button several times each on the first listen. You know when Mamadou says "Let's go!" it's time for the band to rock! Mmmmm-mmm. More on this in an upcoming episode, unless somebody else want to review it? Here they are.
It does really make me wonder...why are discs released over here months later than in Europe? This came out in November (I think) across the pond. Is it a marketing thing? Really, what's the deal?
Word is a short U.S. tour is coming in June and July, but the closest A & M get to these parts is Chicago in June 2. Then they're going to play some opening gigs for Coldplay. (???!)

Mail from Poland

I came home that day to find a cd-sized package with a return address of Warszawa, POLAND in the mailbox! Inside were an ep and the new release from Polish "proto-Slavonic" hurdy-gurdy bio-metal band Zywiolak. ("Zhee vee OH wak"). With a feel a bit like some of Hedningnarna and Garmarna's early releases, it was the perfect thing to crank during that thunderstorm.
When I emailed band leader Robert Jaworski (who "has been diagnosed with the incurable illness of “being madly in love with Nordic music”. Hedningarna is my mother, Garmarna is my sister, Hoven-Droven is my brother, Gåte is my girlfriend." according to their website) to thank him and ask if there was any English language info about the songs online someplace, he suggested I get busy with my Polish - English dictionary. After all, he told me, he learned English in his youth by translating Queen lyrics!! Yeah! A review of that will be forthcoming as well.

Proto-slavonic bio-metalists hanging tough on tour in Germany (black coats required)

You probably don't really need to join the 25 million people who've watched this
Bohemian Rhapsody video, but check out Freddie Mercury's hairdo if you decide to go there! Then imagine translating those lyrics into Polish....oof!

Oops, one more thing.

We are extra lucky the Carolina Chocolate Drops are stopping by for two nights
this weekend, because they are taking most of the summer off. Why? Fiddler/vocalist Rhiannon Giddens is seven months pregnant! Guess there'll be no clogging on our stage this weekend. Congrats, Mama Rhiannon!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Cedar at SXSW

I went down to Austin last Wednesday to experience the madness that is the South By Southwest Music Conference, scope out potential artists to book at The Cedar, network with agents, managers and other presenters, and try to get a sense of what's next in music.

SXSW is probably not the best place for a person that mostly tries to avoid loud 4/4 rock, posers, and really drunk people. But it is without a doubt the musical capitol of the universe for four solid days, and with over 1800 "registered" artists and probably half as many more there unofficially, if one is willing to work at it, one can usually find something worth listening to at any given moment. Often it seems like you really have to work at it really hard, though.

Some recent developments which makes this a compelling place for someone from The Cedar include an increased presence by international bands (including clubs that specifically cater to world music acts every night), the addition of more "quiet" venues for more acoustic artists, and this year there was even a showcase by a new British label called Nonclassical which features classical musicians playing music which combines elements of classical and modern genres.

In reading a few of the press articles and blogs about the conference today, such as The New York Times and our own Star Tribune, it would be easy to conclude that I went to a different conference entirely; I specifically avoided those sets by Metallica, Kanye West and Devo, for example. About the biggest show I went to see was Tori Amos, but I didn't even make it through the second song, not because I didn't like what I was hearing, but because I could only see the top of Tori's head, which, sorry, just wasn't enough for me.

I did see a few Cedar regulars and past performers, and a few of those were real highlights, like Haley Bonar's set at the Victorian Room at The Driskill, Andrew Bird and his band of Minneapolitans at a special KEXP live performance taping at a small TV studio, and St. Vincent at Antone's, playing a set of tunes mostly from her upcoming album.

But here were some of my favorites, some of which may well end up on The Cedar's schedule in the future:

Sam Amidon: a new take on "traditional" music

Madi Diaz: what a voice...

Laura Gibson: smart and charming

Valéria Oliveira: Brazilian singer/songwriter

Tiny Vipers: Sub Pop acoustic artist

But if you want the full SXSW effect with any of these, make sure another stereo is on at the same time with some obnoxious loud bass thing and have a few drunk college students yell "Woo!" at all the quiet parts...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Dry Guitar" vs March Madness

I'm reading about it on the Occidental Brothers description on the Cedar's web site, but what exactly is this elusive sound, so often mentioned in quotation marks?

Whoa! Halt the presses!! Mpls' own Dance Band is opening for the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International Friday night?!! Holy Cow! since I cannot use stronger language. There is now absolutely no excuse for any person in this entire city to be sitting on their butt Friday night. I mean it! The last basketball game starts at about 9:00, right? OK, it's Wisconsin vs. Florida State, but still! (I am not insensitive to March Madness needs at all, but people, we need to pace ourselves. Too much basketball that first weekend will wear you out. You will need some physical exercise beside thumbing the remote and penciling in those brackets!) If you stay in to watch the whole thing you may miss claiming your space on the dance floor. That's the recently refurbished dance floor, remember.

But back to that Dry Guitar thing. What is it anyway? Sifting through references about the wood on your guitar neck drying out, I found a little information. The National Geographic music article on Congo had this explanation.
In mining towns in the southeastern province of Katanga in the 1940s and '50s, Jean Bosco Mwenda, Losta Abelo and other singing guitarists invented a troubadour style out of local thumb-piano patterns, Cuban sones and American country music. This gentle Swahili sound spread from Katanga to Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, where it was called "dry guitar."

Ok, according to some other sources, it just means an acoustic guitar sound. Well.

Hoo boy, look at this handy reference. While I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all definitions involved, it certainly is ... LARGE! It's the BBC Africa on Your Street Glossary! Go ahead, look something up!

Can a balance be established between hoops and the dance floor for one weekend? I sure hope so. I have basketball dates for Thursday (Northern Iowa @ 1:30 and Gopher Men @ 6:10 ), Saturday (High School Girls State tournament finals featuring Mpls SOUTH - I hope) and Sunday (Gopher Women @ 1:30.) I think that means I have about 8 hours worth of dancing to get in Friday night. OH yeah!

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I am little embarrassed to admit I did this, but we all do it some time, right? I Googled myself the other day. Not my real name; it's too common. I put in "Mama E Dub" and found amidst all the Cedarblog and Myspace type stuff, that I (via the Cedar Blog) am now a featured link on a music review website in Poland. What next?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

These Kids Today

I'm pretty proud of a number of things that we've accomplished in the past couple of years at The Cedar, but possibly nothing more than the cultivation of our relationship with an organization called Project SUCCESS. This is a Twin Cities non-profit that works with Minneapolis and St. Paul public middle and high school students to "develop life skills and inspire them to act on their dreams."

What we do with them is identify shows to which we both feel students would be responsive, and then The Cedar donates a set number of tickets for them to give to students and their families. They then have Project SUCCESS staff go into the classrooms to describe the event and invite students, coordinate the sign-up and provide transportation to and from The Cedar (through their volunteers).

Our first event with Project SUCCESS was a special Carolina Chocolate Drops show last January, with 300 students and their families. What a blast! The set culminated with their great cover of Blu Cantrell's R&B hit "Hit 'Em Up Style" (here's a live TV performance of it):

This got virtually all of the students attending from Minneapolis North and Minneapolis South High Schools up and dancing!

This season our Project SUCCESS shows have included Balkan Beat Box, Gokh-Bi System and last week's fun Pistolera show. And later in the month, in addition to having some students to one of the Carolina Chocolate Drops shows at The Cedar, we are working with Project SUCCESS to bring the the band out to Minneapolis Patrick Henry High School on Monday, March 30 for a pair of demonstration workshops.

Look for more Project SUCCESS events in the fall, thanks in part to support from the General Mills Foundation and their Communities of Color program.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Like Famly

I often jokingly tell artists with whom I work at the Cedar that the first time they play here, we treat them like honored guests. The second and subsequent times they play here, they will be treated like family, for all the good and bad things that might mean to you.

You know, I'm only half kidding though. After a decade and more of house managing plus years of volunteer shifts prior to that, I've seem 'em come and I've seen 'em go. You learn to tell who just wants to be left alone, and who will come out and sign autographs and give out hugs for an hour. You know who lives on coffee and cigarettes, and who want to sneak a little red wine onstage in a coffee cup. You learn who always forgets some article of clothing in the Green Room and who always stacks up their supper dishes neatly and returns them to the kitchen.

My mind was turning to such thoughts as I wondered how many times Karan Casey has come 'round to the Cedar over the years. I'd have to guess her first shows with Solas had to be around 1995? Remember the blistering jigs and reels the original lineup could pull off, still fresh with the sizzle of their genesis? The air above the stage would be smoking, then Karan would wander back up and knock off an a cappella Billie Holiday song or tragic ballad in Irish that would break your heart and bring tears to your eyes. I think everybody in the crowd would just fall a little bit in love with her on those nights.

Who are those youngsters?!

She's been coming around with her trio, now quartet, these last several years, and I for one, am enjoying an artist aging gracefully, choosing to balance home and touring. The first time they came with a baby, she and her husband got to town a night early and strollered over in the rain to check out Lunasa. I remember standing behind them as she exclaimed "They're brilliant!" A few years later I remember comparing reading lists with Karan and joking about parenting ; now she's got two kids and I'm expecting to see them both running around the Cedar Sunday night. That first time with the baby, she announced from the stage "When I used to see a baby, I would turn around and walk the other way. Then we had one." Girl, I so got yer back on that one! And yes, I plan to bring my son along for the show Sunday night.

Karan's latest lineup consists of piano, cello and guitar, a combo which sets off her voice so nicely, and can drive those lefty power anthems as well as lull with the sweet stuff.

Karan enjoying the Solas 10 year reunion concert. (swiped from their web page. Thanks!)

Welcome back to the Cedar, Karan. I hope you know you are part of the family here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A World of Possibilities

Last night's Mike Marshall Big Trio show at The Cedar was an incredible demonstration of how music can open your heart and soul to a world of endless possibilities.

When I first booked this show last November, it was just going to be Mike's new trio- featuring two "hot young players," or so I was told by their booking agent. I'm a big Mike Marshall fan, so as far as I was concerned, as long as it worked within my budget constraints, it was a no-brainer.

Then, in January, I was informed that Mike had invited two German mandolin/lute players, who were going to be playing a big mandolin concert with Mike in Chicago the following night, to join him at The Cedar gig. Further, since the show was then going to be more mandolin-centric, Mike also wanted to invited our native son mandolin poster boy (and long time Cedar fave), Peter Ostroushko. Was that OK with me, and could I throw a little more money into the mix to give the additional musicians something?

Even though it was already a bit late for us to market the new line-up effectively (and nobody really knew how it was all going to be structured), I readily agreed; I love throwing great musicians together and seeing what happens!

The show turned into an incredibly fascinating survey of the history of the mandolin, with the two Germans, Caterina Lichtenberg and Mirko Schrader, starting the evening with Vivaldi, Gershwin and Munier. All three of these duets happen to be on YouTube from a concert they gave earlier this week in California. Here's the Gershwin:

What followed was a far and wide sampling of the mandolin in a variety of settings through time and space by an amazingly talented set of musicians. Peter Ostroushko brought out Dan Chouinard (piano, accordion) for some American immigrant mandolin tunes, and they were joined by Mike and his trio for a few great ensemble pieces.

Mike and Caterina opened the second set with a transcription of a Bach solo violin piece, excerpted here:

So by the time we got around to the actual Mike Marshall Big Trio part of the evening, you know, that thing which I had actually originally booked, we had already heard nearly two hours of amazing music, ranging from classical to "Minnesota blues" to Brazilian choro. As it happened, it was a natural progression to what could be called the future of mandolin music, since Mike specifically composed these tunes for this trio featuring 22-year old bassist Paul Kowert (now also playing with Punch Brothers, who return to The Cedar with a new set for us on April 5), and 16-year old wunderkind Alex Hargreaves (yes, that's no typo, this kid is only 16!). And again, thanks to YouTube, here is one of my favorite compositions from the evening's set, "Sleeping Giant":

A truly profound evening. Thank you, Mike Marshall!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Musta Been Separated at Birth

OK, somebody has to ask the question already...
Do Pistolera and Pistol Valve know each other?  Could they hang out?  Could they jam?

Pistolera, appearing at the Cedar next Thursday night, is a Mexican American four piece doing Cumbia, Norteno, Ranchera and folklorico with great lyrics about immigration issues.

"Policia" has been getting some heavy play in  my living room this week; my son and I were trying to polka to it!

Pistol Valve is the 10 piece Japanese all girl brass plus fiddle plus turntable band, famous for their fedoras and high energy live shows.

Here's a nice little interview with Pistolera about the making of En Este Camino, with a some performance clips spliced in.

I also dig their Spanish updating of the Bob Marley's classic "War" as "Guerra" complete with some slinky horns courtesy of the Slavic Soul Party boys!  I love it when Cedar faves like SSP get around...and SOUL is their middle name!

So I don't really know if they could jam together, but YOU can definitely jam with Pistolera, next Thursday March 12 at he Cedar.

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I just have to brag a little bit now.  You know how I have been raving about the most recent releases from Analog Africa these last few weeks?  Well, Samy Ben Redjeb himself found our little blog last week and posted a comment thanking us!
Thank you very much for this, I really appreciate. Hope you´ll like my next release which will come out early May. Keep in touch. Samy

That SO made my day last Thursday, but I'm still hoping the Occidental Brothers International Dance Band will make everybody's night on March 2oth and transport the entire Cedar dance floor back to 1970's West Africa.

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Finally,  in the "looks like fun" category, check out this photo on Watcha Clan on the Opening Night of their Spring European tour last week. They were at the Jazz Hause in Freiburg, Germany.

Please-oh-please do a U.S. tour this fall!

And when does the Diasaspora... remix disc come out over here?

Regular readers of this blog might want to reference the previous appearances of Watcha Clan in this space, one a review of their performance at Global Fest in January, and one in a larger article on French culture clash music.

Lots of fun shows this month!  Bring it ON!


Mark your calendars for April 5th, the return of the Punch Brothers to the Cedar.
In case you missed their first two Cedar performances, I'll bring you up to speed...

6/17/07 - performed as 'Chris Thile & How to Grow a Band' with Bryan Sutton on guitar.
They performed fiddle tunes and rock tunes from their debut record played with a technical precision that caused sheer panic in the audience.

9/5/08 - performed as the Punch Brothers. They performed the entire 'Blind Leaving the Blind' composition that Thile wrote specifically for this band - clocking in at around 43 minutes. On top of this...they played a full set of songs from their two records. I left this show exhausted and in shock at how humans could play instruments on that level.

So that brings us to April 5th 2009. What do you think they'll bring us this time? Well, if it's anything like their sessions at the Living Room in NYC, we are in for pure bliss. Mozart!?

The 4/5 performance features a new bassist - Paul Kowert who is on tour with Mike Marshall. Fortunately for you, Marshall and his Big Trio will be at the Cedar this Friday, 3/6.