Ensemble mixes culture and sound
Posted Feb. 23, 2007
Seanette Garcia
Following the release of the album “Super Raoul” in 2005, the Fish Tank Ensemble made its debut with a tour across California in 2006. Lead singer Ursula Knudson and the rest of the Ensemble performed at the Folk Music Center in Claremont, Saturday. Specializing in instruments such as the violin, accordion, flamenco and gypsy jazz guitar, the group played Romanian and Swedish folk music they collected traveling to Gypsy villages across Europe. The group includes Fabrice Martinez, Douglas Smolens, Aaron Seeman, Knudson, Mike Penny and Kevin Masaya Kmetz.

The unlikely combination of the accordion, flamenco guitar, saw, shamisen, violin, and voice produce the unique sounds of the five member band known as the Fishtank Ensemble.

The Folk Music Center –retail store location by day, concert hall by night – hosted the event on the evening of Feb. 17 to a sold out crowd in downtown Claremont.

The lights dimmed five minutes after the scheduled 7:30 p.m. show time.
The crowd eagerly sat up in their folding seats.

Seasoned veterans of the Folk Music Center came prepared with seat cushions, to hear the sounds of Gypsy jazz, Flamenco and Romanian folk.
In attendance was a mix of old and young, conservative and eccentric and some aware others unaware of the distinct sound the Ensemble produces.

“My family and friends wanted to see the band and they told me to go look at the website,” said David Meadow, a tutor from Los Angeles who has a strong interest in folk and Eastern European music.

“I was really impressed so I came along with them.”

Sandra Brown from Corona had never heard of the Fishtank Ensemble before, but she is a big fan of Flamenco, folk, gypsy and jazz music.

One of the people responsible for bringing the Fishtank Ensemble to Claremont, Jerry O’Sullivan, a musician at the Folk Music Center, thanked the crowd for supporting “good music.”

With that the concert began.

The five member band, Aaron Seeman on accordion, Douglas Smolens performing as “El Douje” on the guitar, Fabrice Martinez on violin and violintromba, Kevin Masaya Kmetz on the shamisen, and Ursula Knudson on the saw, violin, and vocals, took the stage.

The stage featured a backdrop of a huge peg board holding instruments from around the world.

The backdrop complimented the worldly sound the Fishtank Ensemble created.

“When the word ‘world music’ was coined that is what it was meant to be,” Knudson said in response to how she would describe the Ensemble’s sound.

The Ensemble’s main concern is how they can make all their instruments work well together.

Each of the band members brings their respective traditions including Romanian, Japanese folk music and Flamenco to its overall sound.

The Fishtank Ensemble, established in January 2004 in Oakland and named after a performance space where a couple of the band members lived, opened with “Itty Bitty Snitty Little Frenchman.”

Knudson swore the song was not about their French violin player and band visionary Fabrice Martinez.

Most of the Fishtank Ensemble’s inspiration comes from Knudson and Martinez’s adventures on a mule drawn caravan.

The two have traveled and played folk music throughout Europe with the group Croque Mule.

The “Itty Bitty Snitty Little Frenchmen” is not your average piece of music and it is almost indescribable.

It is easy to decipher the French influence of the song, but other than that it is a smorgasbord of sounds.

All the sounds create a voice that tells a story with no words needed.
Contributing to the experimental sound was Knudson on the saw.
Knudson took up the saw for fun, but comments on how it “sounds like a voice.”

The music had a variety of eclectic themes.

Songs ranged in topics from a post-apocalyptic world with one Shamisen Master left as heard in “The Last Shamisen Master,” to the right of all humanity to marry, even trolls, in the revolutionary song “Troll Wedding.”
The Fishtank Ensemble’s music can be described as
anything but ordinary.

The Folk Music Center could not have captured a better audience for the concert.

People swayed in their seats, and tapped their feet to the music.

A yell of “Yeah boy,” was even shouted from the back rows.

It is safe to say that there was a good time had by all.

If you are interested in folk music events like the Fishtank Ensemble’s performance, the Folk Music Center will host the Claremont Folk Festival on May 5 at Sycamore School in Claremont.

The festival is open to all ages and features Irish, Mariachi, old time folk and blue grass music.

Contact the Folk Music Center for more information at www.folkmusiccenter.com.

Michelle Ajemian can be reached at majemian@ulv.edu.

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