Worldly Woman

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Many people have walked past the World Music section of their local music store without giving it more than the most cursory of glances. Those people have missed out on a rich and varied base of music from a huge range of cultures and traditions.

For those curious to see what the world music phenomenon is all about there could be few better introductions than this Friday’s concert by Kaila Flexer and Fieldharmonik at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.

Violinist Kaila Flexer, the great-granddaughter of Polish klezmer musicians, is the artistic director of Worldview Cultural Performances, a non-profit arts organization that produces many projects, the best known of which is the Bay Area‚’s annual Jewish music festival Klezmer Mania!

Flexer also has produced a number of events for the Freight and Salvage Coffee House in Berkeley. She has performed with a stylistically diverse range of bands including the Cuban band Tumbao y Cuerdsa, the Bay Area Jazz Composers’ Orchestra and klezmer bands Hotzeplotz and the Klezmer Maniax.

Flexer last played at the Kuumbwa 10 years ago With her band Third Ear and is excited at the prospect of making a return visit. “The new band has different instrumentation and is more jazzy and improvisational than before,” she said, “There is more room for interaction between the musicians and for playing with sound textures.”

Fieldharmonik, which has been together since December 2000, also features George Brooks on soprano sax, Nikolai Prisakar on accordion, Bob Lipton on tuba and Jason Lewis on percussion.

This may be an unconventional combination of instruments for those used to more mainstream music, and it results in a unique and captivating sound. “For example, we are using tuba instead of bass; the tuba and sax together manage to sound like a whole horn section,” Flexer said.

The instrumentation, combined with the musicians’ virtuosity produces a total sotmd that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Fieldharmonik’s music is difficult to categorize, being World music in its truest sense, drawing as it does from a panoply of styles. The influence of klezmer music, which traces its roots back to the Jewish people in medieval Eastern Europe, is clear, along with hints of Celtic, Latin, jazz and classical in the mix, too. However, it never sounds contrived, and manages to combine diverse musical elements seamlessly with mesmerizing effect.

Of her music, Flexer said, “I try to avoid labels, as I Inight say we are original klezmer, then go off and write an Irish jig.”

As may be expected from a composer who cites influences as diverse as Bartok, Stravinsky Stephane Grapelli and Spike Jones, Flexer’s music has a natural, infectious style all of its own, as can be heard on pieces such as Extrapolate Backwards and Shepherd’s Dream, both of which are scheduled for performance at the Kuumbwa on Friday .

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, March 21, 2002

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