April 16, 2014
BRISTOL, R.I. — Gnomes may look the same, but not all of them sound or act the same.
Just ask the music ensemble The Gnomes, which play well as a group but brings their individual sound and background to their work.
Bristol's Stone Church Coffee House at the First Congregational Church welcomes The Gnomes on Saturday, April 26. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
The sound of The Gnomes is difficult to pinpoint or categorize. Although they sometimes express their unity by wearing gnome hats, they respect and embrace each other's musical differences.
"Our thing is global folk fusion, and we like to mix up a bunch of sounds and styles, bringing to the music each of our unique musical backgrounds," according to Cathy Clasper-Torch, who plays keyboard, vocals, violin and an erhu, which is a two-string Chinese violin.
The latter fact speaks volumes of the group's cultural diversity.
Clasper-Torch brings to the table her jazz and improvisational background, having dabbled with her instruments since the age of 10. She lived in Asia for a stint and brings some Eastern musical traditions to the mix.
Mike Fischman, another band member, has played in bluegrass, old timey, Irish, rock 'n roll, blues, acoustic folk, Dixieland, swing, jazz, country and western (both kinds) and now, for the second time, a world folk fusion band.
He has also been a DJ on WRIU's Bluegrass Breakdown for the past 20 years, bringing that influence to the band.
Newest member Matt Niebels, the drummer, combines his foundation in jazz and rock drumming, "a passion for world music and a degree in classical percussion," according to a written release.
"With a hybrid drum set made up of hand drums, a jazz kit and a variety of shakable and bangable things, Matt adds a musical spice rack of flavors to the group as well as a contagious energy and groove," the release adds.
Pete Breen, an accomplished and versatile bass player and singer, began his musical journey as a Suzuki-method violinist at the age of four, and brings a Reggae flavor to the sound.
Phil Edmonds, a native of Killaloe, Co. Clare, Ireland, learned to play the tin whistle in his homeland and gives the band that Irish/Celtic touch.
The Gnomes has been together in some form for 10 years but took on its name eight years ago.
Clasper-Torch said the name is fitting.
"Gnomes are funny, unpredictable and bring to mind a Celtic tradition, as well as a Scandinavian tradition — a really great name for us and the images it creates," she said. "We wear pointed hats at our concerts. We have fun with it as well."
Clasper-Torch went on to say that gnomes have a mischievous quality, making its name even more perfect for their band, in that they defy categorization.
Coffee house director Roger Dubord said he has seen individual band members and the band as a whole perform in the past.
He summed up their performances in one word: "phenomenal."
The Gnomes' new disc includes such memorable numbers as: "Let's Get Gnomed", "Pauline's Tango", "Via Umbria" and "Waterfall". The Gnomes play a lively blend of World Folk Fusion featuring a wide range of styles - Irish, Scandinavian, Eastern European, Caribbean as well as their own Rhode Island style originals. Members: Cathy Clasper Torch, Phil Edmonds, Otis Read, Ron Schmitt, and Peter Breen play a slew of instruments that include accordion, fiddle, whistles, guitar, bass, percussion, and vocals. Their music is guaranteed to get you moving and grooving. I told Cathy Clasper-Torch that the tallest garden gnome in the world is in Kerhonkson, NY and is named Chompsky. It is actually listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Kerhonkson just happens to be where this year's Northeast Regional Folk Alliance Conference (NERFA) will be. Otis Read is attending NERFA, maybe he will go check it out! Cathy Clasper-Torch sent me an e-mail that read, "That is so funny that the big gnome is named Chomsky! At our gigs we sell 'Gnome Chomsky' buttons! Ha! Some people ask us, why did you pick the name, 'The Gnomes'? Well, there is an answer to that, but it's also been a great source of puns and fun!" She didn't tell me the reasons…TEASE! She went on to add, "In Europe they actually have Garden Gnome Liberation Fronts!" If you would like to talk gnomes with Cathy, find out the deep secret behind the band's name, start a Rhode Island chapter of the Garden Gnome Liberation Front or just go out hear some really great music, then check out a Gnomes Gig!
November 6, 2008
The cover of this album says "world folk fusion" right on it.
Fusion makes me think of two things: jazz, and food. Jazz, according to Wynton Marsalis, is a negotiation. And while "Everybody Must Get Gnomed" is not necessarily jazz, The Gnomes have negotiated a beautiful and broadly international feast here, with ideas, decisions, temperance and turns that keep a brisk, organic pace. Folk or traditional songs that transcend their roots as dance and work music have usually done so by masking their syncopation in free-flowing melodies on diverse solo instruments such as fiddles, guitars and, most notably here, whistles.
But the steps are unmistakable and I challenge anyone to allow their gait to be broken while walking down the street with the disc's opening medley playing on their headphones. "Hasidic Melody" finds the innate joy in mysticism by segueing into a pair of Irish jigs; the softly distorted bass brings the stomp to "Boys of the Lough/Monaghan Twig" without sacrificing any of the Gnomes' delicate interlocution. From the refined blues of Roscoe Gordon's "Sit Right Here," on which Peter Breen brings an arching clarity to the vocal, it's on to the next course, a tango. Then a tarantella. Than back to the tango. The next course is a polka, then a flamenco polka! Whoa, back up.
Who are these guys, and where are they getting these combinations? They are: Peter Breen on bass; Cathy Clasper-Torch on fiddle, erhu, keys and cello; Phil Edmonds plays the accordion and the whistles; Otis Read is on vocals and guitar; Ron Schmitt plays every form of percussion known to mankind, some guitar, and some bass. Now that you've met the chefs… Positioned near the center of the album and among only a few tracks to stand alone and apart from a medley, "Imagine Peace" is clearly the main course. A penetrating meditation for accordion and whistle, it is swayed along by a windy keyboard refrain keeping waltz time.
Dessert starts with a pair of tributes to Otis Read's time spent living in Umbria, Italy. "Via Umbria" is a guitar and cello driven tune that breaks behind a whistle that dances deliberately over the track like a time-lapse sunrise on a few dozen yards of olive trees. These are both Otis Read's compositions and he lays a reserved vocal treatment over the Tropicalia-inflected "You've Got A Home.""Waterfall" is a tribal rhythm behind a series of ascending Western scales, accented by a few Stephane Grappelli-esque violin turns and the meal is nearly over: All that's left is ceremony."Finn Yenta" is a quick Norwegian waltz led by violin into the album's ceremonial closer: "The Light and the Spices" a Sephardic hymn to the Jewish ceremony of Havdalah, which is performed on Saturday evenings to conclude the Sabbath. The light is warm on "Everybody Must Get Gnomed," but it's the spices that resonate: exotic, fresh and unique.
November 25, 2007
Gnomes: Celtic Roots and World Music Branches
You won't go to many Irish music shows where you'll hear music from Israel, Russia, Scandinavia, Jamaica and Finland but then again The Gnomes aren't your average Irish jig band.
The Providence Rhode Island based quintet will bring their eclectic brand of tunes to the Grange Hall Coffeehouse in Sandwich this Saturday night.
"We don't consciously choose to go with other styles, it's just something on our palette and we went with it and started to incorporate it in our repertoire, " Gnomes guitarist Otis Read explained. "It's compatible with the instruments we use. One of the things about Celtic music [is that it] is restrictive and can lack variety, you can get bogged down in genre. It's nice to be able to experiment."
Then again when you consider the group's varied backgrounds it isn't surprising that their musical menu is a smorgasbord of sounds.
"I was born in Burma and I lived my high school years in Hong Kong," fiddler-keyboardist Cathy Clasper-Torch recalled. "But there is something about Irish music that reminded me of a lot of Asian music. It is something I felt very at home with right away."
Phil Edmonds is at home, the band's tin whistle and button accordionist was born in County Clare.
"I learned tin whistle in Ireland when I was seven or eight years old," Edmonds said. "My family emigrated here when I was 14 in '73. I went back to Ireland for six months and started playing again. When I came back I started going to Irish sessions. Those led to many bands over here."
It was out of these multiple bands and links The Gnomes were formed in 2004.
"I played guitar back in the '70's and started writing songs in high school. It just evolved from there, meeting different musicians, learning different songs, maintaining different influences from other cultures," Read recalled.
He'd produced a couple of CD's; 'New England Christmastide' and 'Wind in the Rigging' before moving to Italy for a couple of years. Read returned in a songwriting mood.
"We started I suppose when Otis came back from Italy," Edmonds recounted. "He asked me to record a CD with him, instrumental, all original tunes, and I did. I asked Cathy Clasper-Torch in, who I had performed with me in the past. From there we started performing as a trio at India Restaurant in Warren. Then I asked Peter Breen (bass and fiddle) in for bigger concerts and then we added Ron Schmitt as a percussionist."
The CD was Read's 'Under the Arch,' released in 2004. Clasper-Torch had performed with Edmonds as a duo while Edmonds was also in a duo act with Read, but the fiddler and guitarist had never met until they worked on the CD.
"I always played since I was a kid," said Clasper-Torch. "Probably 15 years ago I happened upon a Mary Black album and became very interested in Celtic music. So although I'm not Irish I was around people who played Irish music and I could learn from. I play with a number of groups that have a Celtic influence. Phil has been a great teacher to me because he really embodies the music."
Keeping that Celtic base, The Gnomes released their own CD of instrumentals in 2006, 'To The Dance Floor' that spotlighted a Mexican waltz, an Edmund's penned reel, a 'Finnish Fling' all mixed in with Irish roots material.
"We do a lot of our own music and we listen to CD's from all over the world to see what we can find," Edmonds explained. "The title tune from 'To the Dance Floor' we came up with from listening to Cape Verdean beats, music."
The variety is part following their interest and part marketing strategy in the crowded world of Celtic music.
"With The Gnomes we focused on world music," Edmonds said. "Scandinavian, tangos, reggae, everything. In some of these cultures they do use these instruments, in reggae I like adding some whistle licks, it really fits. I think for all of us The Gnomes is our favorite band. We have something pretty original to offer, Celtic with a world music flavor. About a quarter of our music is Irish and the rest comes from many cultures. Still the tin whistle and (button) accordion gives it an Irish flavor."
It's fun for the musicians as well when they swap styles.
"I love the challenge of that, it presents a lot of distinct challenges for a fiddle player," Clasper-Torch declared. "It keeps me on my toes."
They wouldn't mind getting the audience on their toes either.
"I would love for people to get up and dance, that's what we love, but we cater also to the sit down audience," Edmonds said. "Most all of our material will be up-tempo so it will be hard to sit there."
All three have been to the Cape before. Edmonds and Clasper-Torch played at The Grange as members of the Fourth Street String Band. Read lived in Sandwich and Orleans in the late 70's and early 80's. He gigged around Cape Cod as part of Big Lost Rainbow (anyone remember them?). They'd like to widen their Rhode Island base and have played several Irish Music festivals.
This winter The Gnomes will workshop CD number two, one that'll sport some vocals. In person half their material features singing but they've yet to record a vocal for posterity.
For now they'll continue their tour on musical styles.
"I think we'll always be grateful for our Celtic roots and continue to explore those," Read said.
Gnomes come up big with first CD
With a designate like that, I was half-expecting garage-destined punk rockers – perhaps a testament to how myopic I've become. However, what I found were five seasoned musicians pouring the collective essence of their very souls into beautifully arranged instrumentals, most with a distinct Celtic flair.
The band clearly dips into a well of life experience to cull such convincing performances of Scandinavian, Eastern European, and general World Music. The Gnomes are made up of Irish-born Phil Edmonds on button accordion and whistles, acclaimed violinist Cathy Clasper-Torch, percussionist Ron Schmitt, staple on the New England scene bassist Peter Breen, and producer/musician extraordinaire Otis Read on guitar. Though these musicians regularly turn up on projects with Joyce Katzberg, Atwater-Donnelly, and other regional regulars, To The Dance Floor serves as the assembled lineup's first recorded project.
Though many of the traditional songs herein contain instantly recognizable classic melodies, it's the original compositions by Phil Edmonds that spotlight the proficiency of this unusually gratifying group. The title track is, as described on the CD's liner notes, a fusion of Irish and Cape Verdean-influenced music.
Moreover, it's a catchy number that astutely utilizes some superb percussion work by Schmitt. Another highlight is For Those No Longer With Us, a moving albeit uplifting musical homage, paying tribute to the loved ones lost over the years with much grace and reverence. One of the unexpected gems on this disc came in the form Roy Rogers Comes To Killaloe a bit of comedic relief which accomplishes the almost-impossible task of fusing Celtic with Cowboy. Inspired by a trip to Ireland by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, a young Phil Edmonds was transfixed by the couple's roping and bullet catching tricks, and years later said inspiration makes for great music.
And therein lies the greatest strength of The Gnomes and all those who toil to the same end as they. Pulling memories, inspiration, life events, and deep emotion into song is why Stradivari made violins, Les Paul makes guitars, and God made music. To The Dance Floor is an instrumental celebration to which all music lovers are invited.
There are some works of art and music that just stand out, not by their ability to sensationalize, or to excite, but merely on a masterful and unique vision conveyed with superb craftsmanship. The Gnomes(formerly the Lucky Band) release To The Dance Floor is one such example. Here is a love of the music as music. Whether playing to an audience or by themselves what the members of The Gnomes do is way above and beyond the call of just good music.
To The Dance Floor is for starters the Gnomic meld of Celtic(Irish, Highland Scots), Scandinavian(Finnish particularly), Eastern European and Latino styles and traditions,but that is just the beginning. The music here is by turns gentle, ecstatic, sad and elegaic, and always intriguing. The Gnomes don't need sturm and drang to draw you in, they just draw you in by the beauty of what they do. Their intensity is not that of screaming guitars, it is far more powerful.
A big part of this is the work as a composer that Phil Edmonds does, he is both equally at home in the Cape Verdean-Latino music around him in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts and in the Irish tradition he grew up in. The title cut "To The Dance Floor" is an outstanding case in point. As is his counterpoint to the Celtic Tiger-"The Celtic Lamb." If anyone can make a poetic statement with music, and one that is at times gentle and subtle and still will get to you, it is Phil. Add the excellence of the instrumentalists here: Besides Phil on accordion and flute and whistle, here are the virtouso skills of fiddler Cathy Clasper Torch, guitarist Otis Read, bassist Peter Breen, and percussionist Ron Schmitt.
There is not a tune here that you do not feel like playing again after you've heard it. There is something here that covers human thought and emotion in every walk of life. From "Kilda's March" /"Kilda's Wedding"/"Tam Lin"/Rolling In The Rye Grass" by turns happy and jaunty, then dour, to Phil' Edmond's elegaic remembrance "For Those No Longer With Us" this music will catch you up in it's mood, or intensify the one you already have.
I first saw The Gnomes at Bright Night Providence 2006. I realized then that on whatever level of musical universe a new threshold had been crossed whether the whole world knew it or not. And this CD just confirms that I was right.
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