Music

Art in Paradise: Rhythm and Cellos

Portland Cello Project and Rhythm Nomads bring sophisticated sounds to town.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012
Tarina Westlund Photo
The Portland Cello Project

There's long been an impressive level of musicianship among the Valley's many musicmakers. And somewhere around the summit of that particular peak, you'll find the sophisticated players Gideon Freudmann and Tony Vacca.

Freudmann, a cellist, is likely to be the less familiar of the two, because he departed the Valley for its West Coast cousin, Portland, Ore., a few years ago. He's dubbed his looping, mind-expanding style "cello bop," and it's been widely heard in places like, recently, the TV series Weeds. Freudmann has made plenty of appearances in the Valley since his move as well, primarily with the groups Caravan Gogh and Portland Cello Project. The latter of the two visits the Valley this week (Aug. 23, 7 p.m. at Northampton's Iron Horse). The roster of the PCP is constantly in flux, and this time around, Freudmann won't be along for the gig (for good reason—he just got married). All the same, his presence will be felt. PCP's unusual set list, which includes classical-style arrangements of hip-hop hits, features pieces penned by Freudmann.

The Cello Project's effect is an odd one: the tunes are often familiar, but the strange, throaty drive of a massive cello section lends an air of something like silliness to the proceedings. It feels like a bit of a joke, and maybe it is. But after a minute or two, the "joke" wears off, revealing a seriously cool, seldom-heard kind of classical music, driven by repetition, basic melodies, and a stout string rhythm. The pieces often move toward high drama, ending with a tidal wave of symphonic power that renders the original tune a dim memory. On the other hand, there's something deeply Spinal Tap about what happens when you glance at the play list and realize that the moving classical sounds are in fact taken from "That's My Bitch."

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Percussionist extraordinaire Tony Vacca, on the other hand, is widely recognized in the Valley, especially by the many kids who get to meet him through the rhythm workshops he brings to area schools. This week, Vacca teams up with two major talents from outside the Valley to create the group Rhythm Nomads: Senegalese drummer Massamba Diop and American vocalist and drummer Vinx.

Diop, a longtime Vacca collaborator in The Senegal-America Project, is widely known as the percussionist for African superstar Baaba Maal. Vinx, who teaches at Berklee, possesses a remarkable voice, a honey-smooth croon—even a cappella, its soulfulness is nothing less than arresting. Vinx has long offered a percussion-fueled brand of pop that's gained major praise. Stevie Wonder said of him, "Vinx is the gift you give to someone that you really care about."

The supergroup Vacca brings to Greenfield's Arts Block this week will, if his past outings are an indication, offer sophisticated grooves and an uplifting good time.

The Rhythm Nomads play Greenfield's Arts Block Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

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