By REBECCA LANG, Star Tribune
Last update: March 27, 2010 -
Those who expect a cello-based, four-piece band to whip out canned Americana covers or conservative classical tunes are in for a shock when Jelloslave takes the stage. The Twin Cities experimental group seeks to unleash the hidden spirits of the cello -- be they animal noises or tribal percussion -- resulting in an infectious, mysterious melee of genres.
"Pop, folk, free improv, jazz, world music -- we throw it all in the Jell-O mold," said cellist Jacqueline Ultan. The four-piece group was formed in 2003 by Ultan and fellow cellist Michelle Kinney, who realized their compositions needed "a kick in the butt" and promptly added drummer/producer Greg Schutte and tabla player Gary Waryan.
The quartet's second LP, "Purple Orange," will be released this weekend in a two-day music-and-art extravaganza at Open Eye Figure Theatre. It follows their critically acclaimed "Touch It," which fused J.S. Bach with tango one moment only to layer in samples of industrial noise and discordant voices the next.
"Purple Orange" is both serious and playful in its sonic exploration, mirroring the outer-space cover art decorated with mathematical lines. Featuring somber corridors of plucked strings alongside jig-like bursts of joy, the record, as Ultan put it, "definitely takes you on a journey." But "it's not like, drugged," added Waryan.
Music in the family
The group gathered recently in its recording and rehearsal space, located in Schutte's northeast Minneapolis basement studio. It's clear that a lot of thought has been put into the studio, called Bathtub Shrine, after Schutte's back-yard Buddhist monument. The blond wooden walls are covered with handmade canvases and sculptures that bounce the sound in a multidimensional, organic way. Other Twin Cities acts recorded by Schutte here and at his former studio, Hot Igloo, have included Benson Ramsey from the Pines and the Bill Mike Band.
Schutte isn't the only Jelloslave member working with key names in the Twin Cities music scene. Waryan's brother was in the '80s roots-pop band Figures, and his daughter, Isabel, is in an up-and-coming rock band called Bouncer Fighter.
Ultan's father, composer Lloyd Ultan, has a University of Minnesota concert hall named after him. He started the electronic-music program at the university's School of Music. She describes him as "an amazing musician," and credits his experimentation as an inspiration for her own. "He was like the mad scientist in the basement, blowing up notes," she said.
Ultan herself is a graduate of Yale's School of Music, and has worked with many national musicians, including Dan Wilson. Jelloslave cellist Kinney played for Natalie Merchant and Sheryl Crow after completing grad school at NYU.
Despite their wide-ranging experience elsewhere, both string players feel more at home in the Minneapolis music scene.
"I didn't start finding my niche until I moved back to Minnesota," Ultan said, "Then I started working with multimedia artists and dancers and rock musicians. I suddenly found my tribe."
Another passion of the Jelloslave members is music education.
Kinney is musician in residence for the university's dance program, and Ultan teaches at the MacPhail Center for Music.
"As a parent, I can tell you that the music scene is on its last legs in the public schools," Kinney said, adding that the program in her children's Hopkins district faces near-constant budget cuts.
But before the mood became too somber, the band stopped to pose for a photo shoot, where they picked up their respective instruments with relief. Shot after shot, each member couldn't seem to stop tapping and plucking, already absorbed in mellow improvisation.
To the photographer's chagrin, the music had started, and it's unlikely that Jelloslave will stop soon. They are, as they put it, slaves to their instruments.
Purple Orange CD Review - Reviler Magazine
Twin City progressive classical/jazz quartet Jelloslave occupies a unique place in the local music scene. It is a far cry from the madding crowd of the sweat and booze soaked madness of the bar scene and yet not quite completely buttoned down and proper enough to be adult contemporary either. It’s an in-between area occupied by Serious Musicians making Serious Music. Much like locals the Bad Plus or Happy Apple, Jelloslave is too obscenely talented to create anything but creative, forward-thinking orchestrations. So it makes sense that those who are bound to enjoy Jelloslave’s music are the ones who have an appreciation for that sort of thing. People who have taken music theory classes. People who listen for polyrhythm’s instead of the hook. People who own recordings by Buffalo Collision.
But that isn’t to say that the rest of us can’t enjoy them as well. Jelloslave have a new record out called Purple Orange, and though it will likely find its largest audience in the aforementioned highbrows, it is also accessible enough to be enjoyed by wider audiences as well. The band’s unique mix of intense cello sawing (played by Jacqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney) and Indian and Caribbean influenced percussion (Greg Schutte on the drums and Gary Waryan on the tablas) make for an interesting blend of classical, jazz, and Eastern music. Ultan and Kinney’s strings hiss, groan, and shriek like live things making up for a lack of vocals with virtuosic and unpredictable dynamism. The aggressive percussion, while in the backseat, is full of expertly crafted rhythms. The tablas especially pop, anchoring the cello freak outs to a solid bedrock of world beats. The diverse array of songs wanders through a universe of sound (including covers of Joy Division’s “Love Will tear Us Apart” and Leonard Cohen’s oft covered “Hallelujah”). At times every sonic stitching seems so seamless that one almost wishes for more ugly little pieces of discord to shake things up but as far as classical/jazz hybrids go the band doesn’t play it too safe by far. Purple Orange is bound to end up being one of the better recordings released locally this year, though its heady pretext may hold back some from giving it a chance. That would be a shame though since most of us could stand to listen to more of this kind of music.
– Jon Behm, Reviler.org