Jorge Glem and Sam Reider (from their Red Poppy Art House Web page)
Last night at the Red Poppy Art House was practically a case study of how the attraction of opposites can often lead to highly imaginative synthesis (whether or not you happen to subscribe to the dialectic philosophical stances of either Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel or Karl Marx). Accordionist Sam Reider composes his own music by drawing heavily on the extensive breadth of American “roots” music, with a possible preference for Appalachia. However, when he first encountered Venezuelan cuatro virtuoso Jorge Glem, Reider was determined to establish a partnership. (Those really interested in dialectical opposition will probably make something of the fact that, when they met, Reider was living in Brooklyn, while Glem was living in the Bronx.)
When the two first encountered each other, neither was particularly fluent in the language of the other. Partnership was a matter of establishing communication on a variety of different levels. What eventually emerged, however, was, indeed, a synthesis of folk styles from two different countries with two different native languages. That synthesis has now progressed to the point where the pair is making their first tour, and last night that tour took them to the Poppy.
Personally, this was one of those rare evenings for me when absolutely nothing was recognizable. I thought I had at least a journeyman’s acquaintance with American roots (particularly after a stint playing washtub bass for an impromptu bluegrass group that formed at a research laboratory where I was working); but Reider’s world turned out to be fascinatingly terra incognita, to the point where any of the titles I scribbled down are probably inaccurate. Similarly, while I knew what kind of an instrument the cuatro was, I had never really thought about it terms of anything other accompaniment for song, perhaps in the manner of its physically close but geographically distant relative, the ukulele.
Fortunately, it did not take me long to realize that the cuatro was, indeed, capable of virtuoso display in its own right. Glem’s finger-work was so fiery and so rapid that I kept staring in disbelief at what he was doing physically to evoke such rich sonorities out of four nylon strings spanning a relatively modest sounding body. Furthermore, Glem was not about only virtuoso display. His duo work with Reider covered a broad diversity of rhetorical stances, meaning that each of their selections had its own unique personality derived (synthesis again) from each player’s own characteristic approaches to performance.
For most of the selections, the duo was extended to include local percussionist Jackeline Rago. She played only a few instruments, one of which was a cajón, which continues to fascinate me with the extensive diversity of sounds it can deliver. She also had an earthenware pot with a hole cut into the side, yielding richly-colored deep tones each time she slapped the hole. Her command of rhythm often played a significant role in negotiating the melodic lines coming from both Reider and Glem, particularly when those lines involved a 5/8 rhythm with extensive fluidity in assigning weight to the individual beats.
The whole affair turned into such a rich journey of discovery that I realized after an hour that the first set had already crammed my cerebral capacity with more than it could manage.