The p.r. e-mail hooked me with its description of The Luminescent Orchestrii as: "a gypsy tango klezmer punk acoustic string band from New York City." There was a link to the band's webpage; I spared no time and immediately downloaded a few luminescent MP3s - brilliant shimmering songs with complex driving rhythms, amazing East-Euro-style harmonies on the vocals, a perfect fusion of old and new sensibility - then checked their MySpace for more music, pausing to click the button to add them as "friends." Once I'd added the songs to iTunes, I started making a mix to burn for a friend, combining the L.O. music with tracks from Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Klezmorim and Manu Chao among others. An e-mail showed up in my box midway through the process; someone had posted a comment on my MySpace, an invitation from the band to see them play at Humboldt Brews Wednesday, April 4.
Since the p.r. also had a Brooklyn phone number for fiddler Sarah Alden, I figured she had to be home and gave her a ring. Sure enough she was at her computer, although she said she'd rather be playing her fiddle. "But we're just starting, and it's a small business, so you have to do all this business stuff."
Her path to NYC began on a farm in Ohio where she grew up and learned old timey fiddling. "I moved to Asheville, N.C., to work on another farm, and at some point I was kind of like, 'I'm just going to become an old hag playing old time music and farming.' I needed to break out of it. So I got into klezmer music, got this record by a revival band from the '70s, Klezmorim, and I e-mailed the guy from the band to ask them about the music."
At that point in our conversation I told her about the mix I was assembling, which by chance included the same band that sent her life in a new direction. Turns out she knew most of the stuff on my mix - L.O. has even played with Ori Kaplan of Balkan Beat Box.
Her virtual exploration of klezmer eventually led her to Bob Cohen, a guy living in Budapest. "He was telling me all these stories and at some point wrote saying, 'Just get a ticket and come over here.' So I went there out of the blue."
She traveled through the villages of Romania. "I learned a lot of dances and tried to learn the music, which was just way too fast for me, but I fell in love with the culture. It's amazing the village culture - it's my idea of heaven. When I came back I flew into New York and decided I'd try to make it here, so I stayed."
While she could not make inroads with the insular East European community in New York, she found some like-minded musicians and assembled a band. That was a few years ago. Since then the band has toured in Romania and recorded a couple of albums stateside.
"We're working on our new album, recording right up until we leave to go on tour," Sarah reported. "Then we have another huge European tour we're going to do. We're excited about coming out there. We're playing with Fishtank Ensemble after the show in Arcata; I don't know if you're familiar with them. It's a great band. Their fiddle player is someone I met the first time I went to Europe eight years ago. He was traveling around - he and his girlfriend had built this wagon and traveled with another amazing musician with horses and wagons. They went from France to Romania collecting songs. I ran into them in this Romanian village and thought, what the fuck, who are you guys? They eventually disbanded - Alice [the girlfriend] is still there, she bought a house actually and she's doing Gypsy rights stuff - Fabrice came back and met Ursula and he and Ursula are in Fishtank, where he plays fiddle. So after meeting there a long time ago, we reconnected like two years ago. Crazy huh?"
As Sarah noted, the latest Fishtank/Luminescent O. reunion happens after they play Arcata - which is good news for those in SoHum who can hear both bands on Thursday, April 5, at Beginnings Octagon in Briceland. (Dinner at 6; music at 7.) Be there, or see them in Arcata. You won't regret it. (923-3617 for more info on the SoHum show.)
Elsewhere: Oregon-based folky Alice DiMicele celebrates the release of her latest CD, By Ebb & By Flow, at Muddy's Hot Cup Thursday, March 29. It's her first studio recordings in several years -- she's been spending her time as a whitewater rafter navigating the rivers she sings about when she's not fighting to protect them.
Meanwhile at the Pearl, The Rubberneckers open for Magnolia Electric Co., a big time indie/Americana band out of Chicago led by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jason Molina, aka Ohia, who has put out something like 20 CDs in the last 10 years.
At Jambalaya that Thursday night, some louder music by Dragged By Horses,fresh from tour, The Invasions (who played at the Jam last Thursday) and Monotonix, a trio from Tel Aviv whose feedback-laden garage rock is just raggedy enough.
Shellshag is a punk rockin' couple out of NYC, friends of Michelle from Panache (same with Monotonix), who have kicked ass a couple of time at Bummerfest. They're here Saturday, March 31, to rock Accident Gallery along with punky three-piece Tulsa, originally from Oklahoma (who'da think it?) but now living in S.F. and Eureka Garbage Co. - and you know where they're from. (Do they?)
Coming to the Jam Saturday: The Country Pretenders. "Fred and I are particularly excited to be playing back at Jambalaya!" says Joyce Hough. (Local history buffs know that Fred and Joyce were the bar's original owners.)
You might recall Easton Stuard from his days on the local jazz/jam/funk scene. He moved north a couple of years back and currently resides in Eugene, where he plays keys and some serious flute with a band called Disco Organica. Don't worry, they don't play disco, instead it's nu-jazz, on the funk tip with turntables. Need a break from all the trad at the Jazz Fest? D.O. plays at the Pearl Saturday. (If you happen to pick this paper up on Wednesday, March 28, the band is playing that night at Humboldt Brews.)
KMUD's funky deejay Cuzin Marc is no fool, even if he is celebrating his entry into the realm of senior citizens on April Fool's Day. Cuzin Marc's Rocking Birthday Party starts at noon Sunday at the Mateel; just about every band in SoHum will be there.
The jamband crowd will be at HumBrews April Fool's Day to hear Zilla, a jamming trio out of Boulder led by percussionist Michael Travis of String Cheese Incident fame. He's the drummer (natch) but also simultaneously plays keyboards and something called a mallet Kat. Aaron Holstein handles bass chores, plays keys and does that vocoder thing (voice into music). Last but not least there's Jamie Janover on electric kalimba, mini-sitar, sampler, percussion, tongue drum, water (you have to see it) and hammered dulcimer - and he's serious, a national champion on hammered dulcimer. Think ancient and modern, and Godzilla without god.
I had a little work done on my car Monday. When I was paying my bill, Morgan, head honcho at Redwood Automotive, asked what I was doing next Monday. I had to admit I did not know. His suggestion? Make it down to the Jambalaya for the second edition of the Humboldt Blues Association's monthly Blues Jam, where he'll be jamming on guitar. Sorry to say I missed the first one, but by all accounts it was a ripper with many fervent toasts to the Jam's good ol' days. The jam at the Jam Monday, April 2, features The Mamma Jammas as house band, which should bode well since Andy Widman is a fine blues guitar slinger. Soulful M.J. vocalist Cathy Thompson will be in the house as well.
"Did you hear about Absynth?" someone asked. I starting hearing rumors a couple of weeks ago, and sadly, it's true, the members of the Absynth Quintet are going their separate ways, as I learned the night of Pete and Belle's wedding (great party BTW). So I was surprised to see that Absynth is playing at Red Fox Wednesday April 4. Turns out it's a different band. As Ryan from A.Q. noted, there are bands with that name all over. This one's a synthy jamband/electronica trio out of Tahoe, touring with the post-rock trio Lazlo Hollyfeld out of Buffalo, New York. Ryan, who was picking at the wedding party as half of Spandex Djalopy, assured me he will go on to make music with other like-minded souls, as will the other members of the quintet. New bands will sprout, grow tall, fade away and so on. I've always told Ryan that A.Q. was dying for a fiddler - maybe he'll be inspired by the luminescent Sarah and form a local gypsy-tango-klezmer-punk-acoustic-stringband. Hell, I'd go see them. Wouldn't you?