Redwood Jazz Alliance

Theo Bleckmann Elegy
Friday, February 10th, 8 p.m.| Fulkerson Recital Hall, HSU

"One of the most flexible and uncategorizable figures on the New York a niche of his own invention, somewhere between jazz, cabaret, classical, experimental, and improvised music...It's tremendously rare for a singer to realize the potential of the voice so thoroughly."
—Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader

Theo Bleckmann

Photo: John Labbé

Elegy EPK (ECM)

Theo Bleckmann interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air

Randomly read a dozen reviews of Theo Bleckmann and you’ll spot some recurring themes: meticulous technique, astounding range, precise pitch, unearthly yet elementally human timbre. But the label most commonly applied to his vocalizing may be “uncategorizable.” Bleckmann has recorded art songs, bar songs, and an award-winning album of songs by the cult British pop icon Kate Bush. (It was one of NPR's top ten records of 2012.) He’s sung Charles Ives with the indie-jazz quartet Kneebody, the composers of the alt-classical Bang on a Can collective (David Lang, Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe, Phil Kline) write for him regularly, and for fifteen years he was a core member of the Meredith Monk ensemble. His voice has graced projects by such RJA veterans as rising-star trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and iconoclastic pianist-composer-arranger Uri Caine. Music writer David Hajdu finds Bleckmann “as playfully experimental as Albert Ayler or Ornette Coleman,” and DownBeat named him male vocalist of the year in 2014. Now he’s touring in support of his first album as a leader for the legendary ECM label, with a band that includes two longtime creative allies, guitarist Ben Monder and drummer John Hollenbeck. (He has also performed in duo with pianist, bandleader, and first-call sideman Shai Maestro. Meanwhile Jorge Roeder, who last visited Arcata as a member of Ryan Keberle's Catharsis, is filling in for regular bassist Chris Tordini.)

With Hollenbeck and keyboardist Gary Versace, Bleckmann makes up Refuge Trio, a project that reinvents the work of popular singer-songwriters (its name comes from Joni Mitchell's "Refuge of the Roads") as well as creating provocative original work. He's also a regular guest of Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, and with Monder he has generated a pair of albums and an ongoing series of performances that wreak beautiful havoc with standard expectations of jazz and rock. Besides Meredith Monk and the Bang On a Can collective, Bleckmann has collaborated with a remarkable roster of contemporary musicians and composers, including Laurie Anderson, Peter Eldridge, Philip Glass, Kate McGarry, Sheila Jordan, Luciana Souza, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kenny Wheeler, and John Zorn.


Bleckmann's joyous, mischievous sensibility also shows itself in his lush and ethereal compositions, which leave listeners feeling as if their chair had been moved over a few inches when they weren't looking, so that familiar things suddenly look fresh and strange. He has written for a range of instruments from piano, violin, and kalimba to chimes, Glockenspiel, toy microphone, and sewing machines, setting poems by Rumi, Emily Dickinson, and Kurt Schwitters as well as building ineffable soundscapes with just his voice and a loop pedal. His taste for risk-taking and his rigorous technique are clear in his varied ability as a sound improviser, a talent that led to a commission to create the space-alien language for Barry Sonnenfeld's Men in Black. Bleckmann's love of performance art informs his playful approach to music-making: concerned that all senses be honored, he crafts each aspect of stage presentation (including expressive physicality and fabulous clothing choices) to create a context that completes and highlights the music.  

The German-born Bleckmann has made New York City his home since 1989, but his small apartment has no room for an acoustic piano. Consequently, he says, “Most of my focused writing work happens when I am not at home in New York -- I am displaced but without the frenzy and responsibilities I have at home. I am sitting at someone’s beautiful piano, each one different, and that isolation inspires me to create something new and serene.” Much of the latest song cycle was in fact written on the road, but the record is called Elegy to mark another kind of journey, as “each of its songs relates to death or transcendence.” Even so, Elegy's compositions have a radiance and a lightness of touch that make them anything but somber.

(Adapted from Theo and ECM)

Tickets ($15 General Admission, $10 Students & Seniors) are available here at our website and at People's Records, Wildwood Music, Wildberries, and The Works.

Theo Bleckmann will also present an open, public pre-show workshop from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m on Friday, February 10th on the stage of Fulkerson Recital Hall. People of all levels of experience are welcome to attend, and admission is FREE.

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Additional support for this show comes from Arcata Arts, Marimba One, Rose Court Cottage, The Sanctuary, Claire Iris Schencke, Threadbare Dancewear, and Tomo Japanese Restaurant

HSU SealFriday afternoon's free public workshop is made possible through the generosity of HSU's College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of Music.

If you or your business would like to consider sponsoring a Redwood Jazz Alliance event and/or advertising in our concert programs, please e-mail us or visit our Underwriting & Donations page.

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