Rogue Valley CD release featuring Laurel String Quartet and a host of MN stars

rogue 2Friday night Rogue Valley debuted their latest CD radiate/dissolve at the Fitzgerald Theater. They had some amazing support from the local music scene. It was like a mini Music on a Stick – except in comfy, velvety theatre chairs, not baking in the Grandstand sun.

The new work has a distinctly Western sound, not country, not Americana but Western. It’s also modern and popular but the guitar often has a Western movie feel (Host) and the addition of horns gives a Mexican flare. The stage helped set the tone too, bare but with a backdrop of lighting that looked like a Western sky – sometimes starry, sometime dawn or dusk. And there was a video shown on a crinkled cloud about the stage. It provided a nice feature and at times (such as Bury Your Heart) helped punctuate the mood of the song.

They opened their set with The Brightest Stars, accompanied by Prairie Fire Lady Choir, a group of dozens women who like to sing. And sing very well. Luckily the Fitz stage is huge. They were able to stroll, make their mark and stroll out for a few songs. Rogue Valley didn’t need them but it was a collaboration that made the music even better.

That was the theme for the night– collaboration makes everything better. We saw rogue 1collaboration on stage – with Rogue Valley (and Prairie Fire Lady Choir and the powerful horn section) an certainly with Laurel String Quartet. It sounds like their process making this album started the long road of collaboration. Songwriter and front man Chris Koza introduced new songs to the band slowly, and the group luxuriated in a deliberate, leisurely process with no deadlines, developing the songs more together between touring. It’s made their music richer.

Other stand out songs – the upbeat Pulse, featuring Linnea Mohn singing (as well as playing keyboards). It’s catchy. Peter Sieve gets a little psychedelic on the guitar in breathe and the stage version ended in a great cacophony of strings and horns. Finally Transference is a great showpiece for Koza’s voice. His voice always reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel, even on a song that has more hints of Cloud Cult than Me and Julio.

The “warm up” acts weren’t bad either. The Laurel String Quartet started alone on stage with a world premiere of Adam Conrad’s Vignettes for Laurels. What a great piece for that location. Then the Laurels invited a stream of well-known musicians to join them and they made better every song by adding the depth of classical musicians. Jeremy Messersmith started with A Girl A Boy and A Graveyard. My 12 year old date could had skipped the graveyard and gone straight to heaven with that! Joe Horton gave his breathy poetic tunes. He has such a command of any stage. Nana Marie Invie, Aby Wolf and others also appeared with reigned operatic voices. And Chastity Brown sang about the heart and Colorado and talked about Black Lives Matter.

I have heard Chastity Brown speak eloquently on race and sexism before. Last night she made a point to thank while allies for their support of Black Lives Matters. It was a generous and important message to the pretty white room. A room that I suspect largely supports Black Lives Matters – but a room full of Minnesotans who need to be told they are welcome, not because we have to be at the center but we need to know we’re not in the way. It’s a well-played note that Koza thanked her for making too.

Astronomique’s recent video – Masquerade

Astronomique’s latest video combines two things I love – orange sunset skylines of Minneapolis and the 80s retold as the Andrew McCarthy/Kim Cattrall classic rom-com Mannequin with a space age twist.

I saw Astronomique recently at the Bastille Day celebration at Barbette – except I think I really just saw a portion of the band. I was pleasantly surprised with how much richer the music was in the video. It’s a more  melodic version of 80s new wave. I will be looking for an excuse to see them again.

François Rabbath – watching a real virtuoso is a lesson on how to live your life

franc1Last night I saw François Rabbath, the Yoda of double bass, play music composed by a son he clearly cherishes and accompanied by students he calls his children at Augustana Lutheran Church in West St Paul. It was a lesson on how to live your life.

François is 85 years old. He is a self-taught virtuoso. He plays music with his son, an accomplished pianist and composer. He is in the Twin Cities to teach and play at the Twin Cities Bass Camp, where musicians of all ages and level and invited to hone their craft.

The show began with father and son walking onto the stage. François in the Nehru jacket, Sylvain in paisley print shirt under vest walking hand in hand, the family resemblance surpassed only by the clear inherited coolness. François to the bass, Sylvain to the church organ, queue the flock of strings on the altar and the music begins.

I have seen father and son play alone, but this time they were accompanied by the strings, drums and keyboard to play new work from Sylvain. The work showcases the talents of both men and the musicians that join them. The Rabbath men in turn support each other, lead the melody and play a balanced duet. In a song like Samir, François hammers the bassiest sound to create a depth of melancholy that builds a rhythmic release to a staccato bowing to create a joyous sound. While, Sevilliana has a jazzier sound and is a showcase for the piano.

Known for organic and improvised playing, François plays so smoothly that it all feels just as it should be. Many compositions have been used in movies; listening to the songs you can feel the action and story progression in the notes.

franc2The highlight of the night was when 12 students from the Bass Camp join the band on stage to play with François. Thirteen upright basses takes a serious stage so just the visual is inspiring. The physicality of watching that many musicians play in sync is mesmerizing. Yet, each musician has his or her own personality, which shines through even in the time of one song and especially as each musician in invited, maybe instructed, to perform a brief solo while François guides them.

Here is where he shines. As amazing as Rabbath is playing on stage he seems to get even more joy watching his children play. His smile is beatific. He appreciates each student. And that is the lesson is life – do what you are called to do, do it well and pass your talents on to others when you can.

Soap Factory 3 x 5 Artists in Residency – art in tents

I always enjoy the Soap Factory. This summer they have featured a number of local artists with multi-artists shows, unveiling new artists last each month. Actually each show involves artist coordinators who choose emerging artists to show.

The most prominent part of the most recent show is the series of nine tents. Each adopted/adapted by an artist. While each tent is the same size, same shape, same color from the outside – in inside each is unique. One was like a camping scene, except that the contents (empty boxes, shoes, mattress, stuff) was all painted white. One faced two bull-horn speakers at each other alternating static and connected via cords and metal-spelled words. One included a strange adult film – with two people in a bed. Only you notice immediately that the two people were not filmed together. It’s really two women superimposed together in a bed. And then it’s not really clear if it’s two women or the same woman filmed twice.

I like the concept of surprises packaged the same but very different inside. As a whole they covered themes. Some art in tents was more intense than other.

The other prominent work was from Lela Pierce. It takes up the back end of Gallery 3. Starting with a structure that looks like a hut created from tree roots, moving to a spider web or bicycle spoke of red yarn splayed out and leading to shadow figured in gauzy material hanging from the ceiling. The string seemingly going to a bullet hole or would of the figure  with raised arms.

You can walk through the exhibit. It’s like a maze with very sheer gauze walls. It’s beautiful. It’s ethereal. It’s touching and sad.

I’ll have to go back to focus on the other art another time. It’s one of the things I like best about the Soap Factory. Each show deserves – maybe requires – multiple visits.