Friday, November 16, 2007

Who knew what a tuba could do?

Originally published on on Friday, November 16, 2007

I had never heard anyone play jazz tuba (or thought about it much, to be honest) until I saw Stefan Kac and the Pan-Metropolitan Trio perform a Late Night at the Dakota set in February 2006. The place was packed, the stage was poorly lit, and we were stuck at a hi-top on the mezzanine near the elevator, but the music was intriguing and full of fresh sounds.

While Kac (pronounced "cats") played the tuba and Owen Weaver the drums, the third young musician (they're all in their 20s), Japhlet Bire Attias, played something called a Chapman Stick. Invented in the late 1960s by Emmett Chapman, the stick is an electronic stringed instrument with a minimalist design: all neck, no body. It's played by tapping the strings, and both hands are equal partners; you can play a bass line and a melody, chords and rhythm simultaneously. Basically, it's guitar-meets-bass-meets-piano-meets-drums, with pickups to amplify and modify the sound. In the right hands, it's a one-man band.

Two unexpected instruments and an enthusiastic crowd made me file away Pan-Metropolitan for future reference. The trio returns to the Dakota's late-night series on Saturday, Nov. 24, to celebrate the release of their first CD, "Isolation." Combining original compositions by Kac with covers of tunes by Pat Metheny, Italian pianist Giacomo Aula and British prog rockers Gentle Giant, "Isolation" is melodic, diverse, eminently accessible and no relation to oom-pah-pah.

Dark and velvety tone
The tuba is a mass of brass, bulky and heavy; Kac rests his in his lap while seated to play. He's agile on his instrument and he lands a lot of notes, especially in tunes like "The Brazen Ms. Montgomery," which he wrote and dedicated to a friend. His tone is dark and velvety. Attias's stick and Weaver's drums hold their own and each has ample chances to shine in performance and on the new CD.

How does one end up playing tuba and jazz, which might seem like a double death wish?

Kac took up the euphonium, the tuba's smaller cousin, in sixth grade to avoid having to join choir. He switched to tuba in ninth grade and didn't much care for it until he auditioned for and was accepted into the Minnesota All-State Band. Lessons at MacPhail, a degree in tuba performance from the University of Minnesota School of Music, and a series of successes followed. Kac was a finalist in the 2005 WAMSO Young Artist Competition, won the solo competition at the first Tubonium workshop at Gustavus Adolphus College and was selected to attend the prestigious Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead music residency program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Today he teaches at the West Bank School of Music, composes and has gigs around town. Since January 2007, he has been on the Minnesota Orchestra's substitute list. He also plays and composes classical music.

Attias comes to the PMT via New York, Florida and Mexico. He's a photographer, visual artist, certified diver and Obama supporter. Weaver recently graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Music with a degree in percussion performance. He taught at the Minnesota Valley Music Academy before moving to Austin, Texas, to attend graduate school at the University of Texas, where he's studying for his master's of music in percussion.

Kac, Attias and Weaver have been playing together for about a year and a half, so I must have first heard them very soon after they got together. That was a good show. It's safe to predict the Nov. 24 show will be better. Kac promises to play everything on the CD, "although probably not in the same order. We'll also throw in a couple of other tunes we play that are not on there, including possibly a complete improvised selection." Besides, what else can you do on a Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis for $5?

What: Pan-Metropolitan Trio CD Release Party
Where: The Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant
When: 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24 [2007]
How much: $5; also $5 food and drink specials

Upcoming picks

Kinsmen/Svajanam: The last event in the Walker's New World Jazz mini-series brings alto sax masters Kadri Gopalnath and Rudresh Mahanthappa to the McGuire Theater stage. Gopalnath is a living legend of South Indian carnatic (classical) music; Mahanthappa is an Indian-American jazz musician. They'll be joined by the Dakshina Ensemble. Music events at the Walker can range from sublime (Dhafer Youssef) to disastrous (Bobby Previte), but they're rarely dull. I saw Mahanthappa last year with pianist Vijay Iyar and this looks like a sure thing. Walker Art Center, McGuire Theater, 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16 ($25; $21 Walker members).

Patty Peterson Birthday with Jeanne Arland Peterson: For a time, it seemed as though Patty Peterson wouldn't have another birthday. On Feb. 12, while she was driving home on 35W, her aorta burst. Nearly seven hours of emergency surgery and months of recovery later, she's as good as new, radiant and thankful. She'll sing, and her mom, Twin Cities music matriarch Jeanne Arland Peterson, will play piano. This will be the weekend's jazzy love fest. The Artists' Quarter, Friday, Nov. 16 and Saturday, Nov. 17, 9 p.m. ($10).

Dr. John Solo: Having booked a long and rowdy parade of New Orleans musicians since Hurricane Katrina, the Dakota is well on its way to becoming NOLA North. The two-time Grammy winner is the biggest name this week, but you can also catch C.J. Chenier on Saturday night. Chenier is here for a Sunday benefit for Katrina survivors, also at the Dakota, presented by Under the Radar Foundation. The Dakota, Monday-Wednesday, Nov. 19-21, 7 p.m. ($50) and 9:30 p.m. ($35).

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