Wednesday, January 15, 2014

the pickPocket Ensemble

the pickPocket Ensemble...replete with pockets!

Continuing on my journey in discovering new classical music I discovered this skillful and creative lot: the pickPocket Ensemble, a diverse quintet that can often be found playing cafes and venues across Northern California. 
      Their music, which they aptly call "cafe music", exudes a relentless exoticism and yet they manage to make listeners feel right at home amid tunes inspired by Appalachian folk, jazz, and Balkan music traditions. Our pickpocketers include Rick, the founder, accordionist/pianist, and composer; Marguerite, the versatile violinist; Yates Brown, whose name is so cool I had to write it out on guitar and banjo; Kurt on bass; and fellow abettors Brian Rice with percussion and Sam Bass ironically on cello.

If a classical ensemble had the spirit of a jazz band and the soul of a folk musician they'd be pickPocket Ensemble. 

I quickly listened to and watched everything I could by this group falling more in love with their music with each new song. Every piece takes you on a miniature journey that begs a cinematic companion. Their piece Remember the Moon has Arabic qualities with its rhythm and harmony (liberal use of augmented seconds and 5/8 have a way of doing that). The timbre of the accordion lends it a folk feel, as if you're at a chaotic Middle Eastern bazaar midday. The melody is memorable and Remember the Moon simply makes me want to grab a sash, some finger bells, and start belly dancing.

What makes their music particularly infectious are its song-like elements with use of doubling, small range, and few melodic themes (usually just one) that generally break for instrumental solos. Their music began heavily influenced by jazz but evolved to include the Mediterranean sounds of the Balkans (so much so I was seriously wondering where the clarinet was in all this!). If you've never heard Balkan music here's an example from Youtube (from a teacher who tried to sell me on eastern European music; I just smiled at the way the violinist's head bobbed). I always lose the downbeat when I hear it, but then maybe that's the point. 

I'll leave you to enjoy For Those Who've Left which is a "French cafe meets rustic Americana" type of tune. The pickPocket Ensemble truly is something special, not just in repertoire but how they relate to the music they create and to audiences. So if you live, work, or plan to travel to Northern California go see them. They are definitely worth having with your coffee. 


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