by Matt Robert
Band seeking audience looking for something energetic, new (or at least new-to-them), wholehearted, accessible, and authentic. We hope to offer an experience that is not only inviting to the ear, but transportational – the kind of show that you wake up the next morning still pondering.
So says Xar Adelberg of Portland, Maine’s Cinder Conk, an esoteric accordion and upright bass duo that specializes in Balkan music. The group plays Friday, July 6, at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant, perhaps the only drinking establishment in town that could accommodate such an act.
Cinder Conk, which has performed together for nearly two years, is the union of two musicians’ passion for arcane forms of music. “Living in Maine, there are not a lot of people interested in delving into Balkan music,” points out Adelberg, who “was playing with a Manouche (gypsy jazz) trio,” while “Matt [Schreiber – accordionist] was studying Serbian accordion and getting acquainted with various Eastern European accordion styles.”
The two, she says, were “looking to find collaborators to play and perform with and we hit it off.” The pair met when Adelberg posted a note on Craigslist seeking fellow riders to a Balkan music show in Boston. Adelberg, only recently introduced to Balkan music at that time, but developing an insatiable appetite for it, “was playing modern/original jazz with her quintet, Loki, and also performing with Ameranouche, a gypsy jazz trio based in the Northeast.”
Schreiber, meanwhile, was living in Berlin, Germany, working as a language teacher and getting acquainted with the Balkan immigrant music scene. He was also playing North African music with an oud and percussion player.
The two began playing together with the “interest in connecting with people who see the same depth and excitement that is inherent in this music.” Adelberg says. “This can be with people who have no idea where the Balkans are, or Bulgarian seasonal workers that happen to catch a gig of ours.”
“What a lot of people don’t know about this music is that, like the architecture and art of Eastern Europe, these songs have been vetted over hundreds of years. There is a message in the music that we hear when we listen to it, and do our best to convey when we perform it.”
Hearing the accordion isn’t surprising in today’s indie-rich scene. In fact, the accordion has long had widespread appeal in the music of a number of prominent musical regions of America, and has even enjoyed popular success in rock acts for decades. Cinder Conk, however, might require a bit more refined ear. Like the mossy growth for which the band is named, the appeal of this group rests in the eye of the beholder. To some, the odd, rigid rhythms and carnivalesque melodies might grate on the ears like a cankerous mushroom consuming its host tree. To others, of course, the deep traditional strains and commitment to the evolution and context of live performance might be medicinal, like the healing properties of the cinder conk.
The music of Cinder Conk isn’t merely an attempt to lull listeners to darker corners of music via contextualization amid popular forms – say, dub step with accordion. This music is hardcore and totally instrumental. The melodies challenge the ear with eastern European cadences. Still, Adelberg, a veteran of modern, original and gypsy jazz outfits, brings a fondness for experimentation. “In the instance of music from this part of the world, innovation and experimentation are essential parts of the tradition,” she says. And this, when bridged with Schreiber’s deep immersion in Baltic heritage, makes for electrifying music.
Cinder Conk relishes the live environment. Adelberg reminds me that the 20th century brought to human ears, for the first time, the repeatable performance of recordings. “We are used to listening to recordings, which are, by definition, static records of a single performance,” she says. “While we can hear these same recordings over and over again, it’s important to remember that it is a moment captured in time that may come across in a completely different way in its next iteration. What we do try to be reverent of is the inflection, flavor and spirit of the music.”
And being first and foremost a live act – albeit an uncommon live act – their goal, it’s no surprise, is “connecting musically with listeners and with each other…sharing those moments with open ears” and “creating a vibrant counterpoint between the two instruments,” which she says “can create a sound that is almost orchestral in scope.
Don’t miss this opportunity to hear this old/new music played with a vigorous and serious spirit in what might be the perfect setting for it: Nick’s German-themed music room.