Out & About: Music from exotic to classical
There’s an intriguing array of musical choices coming up in Portland and environs. In the city, Caravan of Thieves, a string band with an exotic look and (sometimes) an eerie sound, motors into One Longfellow Square on Friday. This Connecticut-based foursome has been touring North America for the past three years and become very popular at the venue.
Also in the Port City, the Portland Chamber Music Festival wraps up its 19th season with a pair of concerts Aug. 16 and Aug. 18.
A few miles west in Buxton, arts impresario Pat Packard has back-to-back concerts scheduled this weekend. On Saturday at the Saco River Theatre, catch Inanna: Sisters in Rhythm, a percussion ensemble from Maine. Inanna sports exotic African costumes and the four women specialize in African drumming. Then on Sunday, Packard has invited the classical duo of violinist Geoffrey Day and pianist Lan Lam to play at her adjacent venue, the Old White Church.
Caravan of Thieves
Banging on trunks, garbage cans and even a kitchen sink, Caravan of Thieves likes to push creative and performance envelopes. Exotic costuming and on-stage shenanigans are twin shticks of the Connecticut-based string band (loosely defined) that deftly crosses normal boundaries between genres and always adds elements of the unexpected to their high-energy live performances.
Sometimes the ensemble’s sound is downright eerie. Wearing an incongruous assortment of costumes, the foursome channels spirits from the graveyard and transform musical performances into an extravagant visual-aural display.
Specializing in original tunes, with a smattering of covers from all over, Caravan of Thieves is centered around a husband-wife duo of singer-songwriters. Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni say they draw inspiration for their songs by walking through a graveyard that’s close to their home in Bridgeport.
Their musical medium harks back to long-dead artists, especially the “gypsy jazz” string stylings made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli of the Hot Club de France from about 80 years ago. One recent appearance at One Longfellow Square included an arrangement of a toccata by Johann Sebastian Bach plus highly stylized covers of songs by John Lennon, Talking Heads and Queen.
It’s definitely not highly homogenized McMusic, says Fuzz Sangiovanni, and lots of others nod heads in agreement.
“If you’re weary of the heavily manufactured sounds and slick production values that dominate mainstream music today, then Caravan of Thieves promises to at least provide a satisfying alternative,” writes Philadelphia Intelligencer reviewer Naila Francis. “These songs are soaked in a melange of influences, that while obviously steeped in gypsy swing, bear elements of everything from chamber pop and 1920s hot jazz to vaudeville, folk and bluegrass.”
Catch Caravan of Thieves at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State in Portland) at 8 p.m. Aug. 11. Call 761-1757.
Inanna: Sisters in Rhythm
Nearly two decades ago, four brilliantly dressed women with an array of African drums burst onto Maine’s music scene. Calling themselves Inanna: Sisters in Rhythm, they advertised themselves as inspired by the ancient traditions of West African drumming. They took their name from an ancient Sumerian goddess who held reign more than 4,000 years ago during a period when they believed that drummers and dancers were predominantly women. The ensemble chose the name of this ancient goddess to express their ties with earlier traditions.
Over the years Inanna has become a fixture of the Maine music scene, and this Saturday they’ll perform at one of our state’s loveliest rural arts centers, the Saco River Theatre, on the banks of the namesake watercourse in Buxton. Host is arts impresario Pat Packard, who opened the Saco River Theatre (formerly known as Saco River Grange Hall) two decades ago.
Inanna’s core concept remains the same. The quartet is deeply dedicated to the education and cultivation of peace and sharing among cultures through the power of music. Using percussion and vocals, Inanna explores the heritage and rhythms of West Africa through original arrangements and compositions invoking ancient traditions of the drum.
Catch Inanna: Sisters in Rhythm at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at Saco River Theatre, Salmon Falls Road in Buxton. Call 929-6472.
Geoffrey Day and Lan Lam
The following day at an adjacent performing venue, Pat Packard presents a classical duo, the husband-wife team of violinist Geoffrey Day and pianist Lan Lam. The couple and their family reside in Naples, Florida, where Day is a violinist with the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and heads several chamber ensembles. Born in Vietnam and raised in Nova Scotia, Lam earned music degrees from Acadia University the University of Western Ontario. She is active in Florida musical circles. She and her husband form the core of the Aurore Piano Trio.
This month the family is motoring north so Lam can direct a music camp in Nova Scotia. Day and Lam will performing at a handful of venues along the route. Sunday’s concert will include sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. Shorter pieces by Jules Massenet and Joseph Acron will also be played.
The concert is slated for 3 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Old White Church, Salmon Falls Road in Buxton. Call 929-6472.
Portland Chamber Music Festival
Every August the Port City reasserts itself as Maine’s capital of arts and culture when the Portland Chamber Music Festival stages its four-concert season. Last week’s “Out & About” previewed the first two concerts, Aug. 9 and 11. This week let’s look at the last two, slated for Aug. 16 and 18.
The festival is directed by co-founder Jenny Elowitch, a Portland violinist who plays with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops. She invites about 20 fellow professionals to play a varied repertoire of small-ensemble music that represents all styles and periods of art music. She is especially enamored of contemporary music, and often invites the composers to attend and address her audiences.
Such is the case for the final two dates. The first concert will include “Graces, Furies,” for piano, violin and cello, written by Michael Rose, who will appear on stage to introduce the piece. Likewise on the series finale, composer Sebastian Currier will present his “Verge,” scored for clarinet, violin and piano.
Two very well-known pieces have also been slated: Johannes Brahms’ Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, on Aug. 16, and Aaron Copland’s “Suite from Appalachian Spring,” scored for 13 instruments, on Aug. 18.
Both concerts take place at 8 p.m. at Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call 800-320-0257 or visit pcmf.org.