The Twin Cities has a knack for hoisting up local artists and treasuring them as darlings of the local music scene. No matter how many great national acts roll through town, we in the metro will always retain that willful pride in the individuals that, reputation or not, have proved their talents to us in tiny, packed rooms in dirty clubs with walls that have seen better days. We have watched these local flavors grow and rise in our pulsing community, and have closely tracked the expansions in their musical language.
Starting in January and continuing through early March, the Cedar Cultural Center will be spotlighting a handful of some of the Twin Cities' most cherished local musicians in a series called the 416 Club Commissions.
[jump] The 416 Club Commissions is funded by the Jerome Foundation, and it encourages artists to work with musicians and sounds outside of their normal genre to create new musical material.
Michael Rossetto, Marketing Coordinator at the Cedar, explained that he felt the Cedar had always been competing as a venue with other local $5 cover shows, particularly in the neighborhood (the Cedar is just down the street from the Nomad, Palmers, and the Triple Rock), as well as other bigger ticket shows (the Dakota, etc.). When 416 Club was first formed, it did not feature "commissioned" artists--rather, it was just a once-a-month show featuring a local musician. The idea behind the revamped series is to keep the ticket price low, but give both the artists and the audience something new to chew on.
"The Cedar hasn't really done a lot of commissioning," Rossetto commented, as he explained the expansion of the 416 Club into the 416 Club Commissions. "The other part of the grant was that the musicians work out of their comfort zone and work with people they don't usually work with and perform it here... The nice thing about this grant is that it allows us to charge only $5 a show and still give the artists a paycheck--not a big one, but enough of one. I'm not sure if we're going to go back to the way it was before, but this approach is a lot more fun and more beneficial for the artist. Rarely are they asked to create new work and get paid for it."
Seven artists will be featured in the series, starting this Sunday, January 16, with Zack Kline and his Orange Mighty Trio chamber group and guest drummer Peter Legget of Heiruspecs. Every Sunday at 7p.m. in January and February (with the exception of Super Bowl Sunday on February 6) and the first Sunday in March, one of the artists will showcase at least 30 minutes of brand new material with their collaborators.
"With all the artists chosen, the grant makes the impossible possible, at least for this show," said Rossetto. "We all know that in this town musicians that don't usually come together, come together, and this is where it happens. We've kind of raised the bar," he commented, a ghost of a smile playing across his lips. "If you had the money and the resources, what would you do? It's always fun to play Frankenstein."
Rossetto was quick to add that the collaborations were not being mandated or monitored in any way. The seven artists included in the grant could pick any collaborative partner they wanted, though they were strongly encouraged to select musicians that were outside of their genre or at least not typical.
"It's not like we're forcing it," Rossetto explained. "A lot of this is sort of a mystery to us, and the first time we will hear any of this is at sound check... There are very few guidelines that we gave the artists. We said, 'try to work with people you don't usually work with, create approximately thirty minutes of new material and debut it at the scheduled show.' This stuff does happen on its own, but it's not funded and usually you hear about it the next day and you're like 'shit, I wish I was there!' Hopefully, for a lot of these shows, it's like we're making it happen."
The artists on the bill are just as enthusiastic and excited about the series as the organizers at the Cedar, too. I spoke with a few of them about their upcoming shows, and found an impressive group of people who recognize this unique opportunity as the chance to explore their artistry on new levels.
"I knew it would be a big challenge for me because I hadn't put out any new music since my album," said singer and songwriter Aby Wolf, who, since her folksy, R&B-style debut album Sweet Prudence was released in 2009, has also had her hand in playing with Dessa and the Doomtree crowd. "And as soon as I read the proposal, with the premise of trying to think outside the box and do things you haven't yet or always wanted to... my pulse started to race." For her February 20 show, Wolf has asked local musicians Jesse Whitney (formerly of Dance Band), Linnea Mohn (the Alpha Centauri, Rogue Valley), and Joey Van Phillips (Mystery Palace) to join her in creating some new material.
"It's been an awesome challenge," Wolf said of the project. "Really challenging and really, really good as an artist to have the assignment. This is not going to be a sit-down show," laughed Wolf, as she talked about the new work. "As far as the energy level and the way things are structured with the audience, it's going to be a lot more beat driven. I think that might surprise some people if they're used to seeing the folk side of me."
Dessa, another sensational artist also featured in the series, is breaking out of her rap genre and bringing in traditional flamenco musicians to spice up her sound. As I asked Dessa how she arrived at her collaborative partners, she explained that she had snuck up on one of her neighbors, Joe Boucha, as she saw him loading instruments into his car.
"He played a mandolin, and as a rapper there's not a lot of opportunity to hear that kind of sound. I think there's a chance it will add new sonic elements--that's the kind of thing I'm really excited about, learning the tone of the different timbres," Dessa said. "And with classical flamenco, I always loved that quick sound... there is sort of that old-world charm to mastering clapping," she said of working with palmas musicians Trevor May and Aaron Maus. "It's rhythm oriented and it lends itself to the beats that I have... it's far more in the realm of classical music and jazz, which I enjoy but don't often get to explore."
Dessa will also be bringing in Dustin Kiel on guitar and keyboard and her band leader and bassist Sean McPherson, as well as vocalist Mankwe Ndosi--a big, raw voice that will definitely complement Dessa's confessional, bittersweet stylings.
Jacqueline Ultan, local jill-of-all-trades, is using the project to highlight and bring together all sides of her very extended musical family, which include Saltee, a cello/guitar/beatbox trio, Jelloslave, a drum and cello group, folk-group the Starfolk, and Antigravity, an improvisation ensemble.
"I had one idea that I started playing with, and then shifted to presenting all four of my bands in one night in one venue, and I thought that was a really cool opportunity not just for me but for other people to come," explained Ultan of the collaboration. "Everybody that I get to play with is so amazing and I feel incredibly lucky to play in bands with all these people--so it became, 'how I can bring all these people together in one place in one night?'"
I could hear the breathless excitement in Ultan's voice as, over the phone, she explained the importance of the 416 Club Commission concert for her work. "I think it's sort of a culmination, in a sense, of all the work we've been doing for all these years, and finding a thread for everyone--not just me--in this music and in these collaborations. We have an amazing music community and to me this is somewhat representative of that. I can't wait to share all these awesome people with an audience all in one place."
For her show at the Cedar on February 27, Ultan will also be bringing in sound designer and engineer Tim Donahue (Music of the Sun) to collaborate on revamping and rearranging some Jelloslave songs.
For Adam Levy, the 416 Club Commissions show offers the chance to debut two new projects that are distinctly different from the pop-folk sounds of the Honeydogs and Levy's children's group the Bunny Clogs.
"At the time I was approached about the project, I was also approached by a group of musicians called Liminal Phase, and they're definitely kind of out of the realm of what I'm know for," said Levy. "But I've always loved different sounds, and this offered an opportunity to work on a piece with musicians that I never really play with normally, and now there's a bassoon an oboe and a harmonium and some electronic stuff."
I can hear Levy relaxing into the speaker on the other side of the line as he talks about his new collaborations. "This has been really under the radar--the Liminal Phase project--and it's been really interesting to be in a band that's just kind of starting up again. It's also a whole other kind of musical template that I get to play with... I just get to play electric guitar in this group, and the songs structurally are just more fluid. This allows me the opportunity to bring in a lot of things that I couldn't have done in the Honeydogs, and a lot of people might be pleasantly surprised."
At his March 6 show, the final installation of the 416 series, fans of Levy will have the opportunity to hear brand new stuff from Liminal Phase in as they are accompanied by Indian musicians on tabla, vocal and tamboura. Liminal Phase includes Levy on electric guitar, DeVon Gray on keyboards, piano, and bassoon, Joey Van Phillips on drums, Lisa Hirst-Carnes on harmonium and oboe, Dan Zamzow on cello and bass, and Nathan Brende on computer and electronics.
When asked about the future of the project at the Cedar, Rossetto was optimistic. "I would like it if we could do this twice a year, if this was a winter series and we could do a spring one," he said. "It would be really cool if we would open it up to the public to pick who they wanted to see work together."
The shows will be at 7:00 p.m. every Sunday in January and February, starting January 16, with the final show on March 6. Each show is $5 and doors are at 7 p.m.
Sunday, January 16: Zack Kline with Orange Mighty Trio and Peter Leggett
Sunday, January 23: Dessa with bassist Sean McPherson, pianist Kahlil Queen, and a flamenco percussionist quartet, with opening sets by Crescent Moon is in Big Trouble, and Mankwe
Sunday, January 30: Marc Anderson with Dirk Freymuth on electric guitar, Enrique Toussaint on bass, and Nirmala Rajesaker on voice and vina
Sunday, February 13: Holly Munoz with Markus Lunkenheimer from Skoal Kodiak
Sunday, February 20: Aby Wolf with Jesse Whitney (Dance Band), Linnea Mohn (Rogue Valley) and Joey Van Phillips (Mystery Palace)
Sunday, February 27: Jacqueline Ultan with Jelloslave, Starfolk, Anitgravity, and Saltee
Sunday, March 6: Adam Levy with Liminal Phase and the tabla artist Suphala