Sunday, June 7, 2009


Can it really still be called experimental music, when it's played by pros who know exactly what they're doing and intend the effects they achieve? I wonder.

And yet there is no more encompassing word to describe the new frontiers some musicians reach (create!) on their instruments.

I spent this evening at Burlington's Firehouse Gallery with an amplified bowed banjo, an electrified violin and pocket trumpet, and an unusual guitar/sitar hybrid (new to me) called a "Chaturangui". Elaine Evans (violin and trumpet), Eric Carbonara (acoustic guitar and Chaturangui), and several other musicians have spent the last week touring New England with banjo legend Paul Metzger (pictured above). He's never seen the kind of recognition that other banjo greats have enjoyed - Bela Fleck and Earl Scruggs come to mind - but you can bet they know exactly who he is. I talked with him a little before the music started, and I get the feeling that the fame of mainstream isn't something he misses in a career defined by breaking every banjo rule and informing a new understanding of what it can do, and how it "should" sound.

And, whereas Paul is reinventing an established instrument, guitarist Eric Carbonara is playing a newly invented one (pictured on the right). His "Chaturangui" fuses an acoustic guitar and a sitar onto a single body. He helped design it with his teacher, the Indian slide guitar master Debashish Bhattacharya. It sounds like a whole orchestra of sitars and guitars all playing harmoniously. Big sound for a modest-sized instrument. I picked up one of Eric's recordings during intermission and listened to it on the way home. There are two tracks on the recording, each one of 10 min. long and spun out in a slowly developing raga form. Very nice.

I don't know yet what tomorrow's Festival holds for me, but it just about has to be less eclectic than tonight's show. It couldn't be more! (I wouldn't have it any other way.)

Check out Paul Metzger's unique banjo improv style in this recent video:

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