Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Trio or Three

Trio One of Three: Cream

   Long long ago and far far away (or something like that) in the Sixties (yes, before Star Wars and during the original Star Trek), a schoolmate told me about a group called Cream. Over the next several years I acquired I think pretty much every LP record they made. It was a British group that did blues-rock, their versions of some Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon tunes and quite a bit of original material. The drummer was a tall guy named Ginger Baker (it's an English thing) who kicked double basses which was not usual then. The bass player was a broody intellectual poet named Jack Bruce. And the lead guitarist was a Yardbirds and John Mayall Bluesbreakers alumnus named Eric Clapton. All of them were already well known in the U.K.; they were the first band referred to as a "supergroup". They had some hits mostly with their original stuff and then showed up on a U.S. TV variety show in a spaced-flower-child inspired video, no skits or nubile females or cussing, just them singing and an independently moving background with landscapes and lights and I think flowers. I could taste cream in my mouth for a week after that. No, I'm not gay, and I wasn't doing any psychotropic drugs that I remember. It was just there. Cream eventually split up, reportedly because everybody's ego (principally Baker's and Bruce's) was bigger than the group and it reached the point of being unable to work together as a team. But while it lasted (1966 through 1968), it was awesome to behold. There was another group of the same name about 20+ years later but it was unrelated. The three played together again at their 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and in a short series of concerts at Royal Albert Hall and at Madison Square Garden in 2005. They understand the value of scarcity.

If you like solid blues-inspired sixties rock, or just have an interest in hearing an original, historic 60s band that isn't played everyday, check them out. Albums: See

Later, Ginger Baker formed Ginger Baker's Air Force, which has been described as a a jazz-fusion band. He also did some traveling and recording of indigenous North African drummers, which he considered in danger of fading away. However, in his own playing, I think he was at his peak in Cream.

Jack Bruce did some solo work and I once had an album named "Out of the Rain" by him. His first solo album was "Songs for a Tailor".

Eric Clapton - did a pile of stuff you probably already know.  I particularly liked his work on his first post-Cream album, "Derek and the Dominos", and on George Harrison's.


Trio Two of Three: The Eroica Trio

   Eroica means "Heroic" and is a reference to a Beethoven piece... not "erotica" as my ex liked to say sarcastically every time I listened to them. In the context of the group itself, it refers to the "heroic" passion with which they approach the music.

   I first encountered this outfit in the form of a coworker loaning me a couple of CDs to stay awake and cranking at the computer, about 2001. One of them was "Baroque", a 1999 release by The Eroica Trio, with tunes from Vivaldi, Loeillet, Bach, Buxtehude, Lotti and Albinoni (kinda full circle there). In rock terms, it was a "tight band". They should be - two of them had known and played with each other since age 9 and they met the third at 12. Their renderings seemed effortless (ha ha) and flowing, never stilted or trite. And on top of that, they weren't bad to look at - three nice-looking ladies, attractively groomed and gowned as for a formal event. I've heard at first they had some trouble being taken seriously because of that. Thankfully, they stuck to their guns (or gowns) and didn't uglify themselves, and today they are a high-demand, award-winning, world-recognized group. And each is an outstanding musician with solo and orchestral-backed work to her credit.
   One has left since they began - Adela Pena, due to fatigue injuries of the hand (carpal tunnel?). She's playing with the Orpheus Orchestra now, so I don't know exactly how that works unless she has a less demanding concert schedule with them. I have long thought the violin was not designed for humans anyway, maybe some alien race. Maybe for some kind of dry-land squid. It's rough on necks especially.
   In 2006, Pena was replaced by an equally impressive talent, Susie Park. Unlike the others, she didn't go to Julliard, she went to Curtis Institute of Music and New England Conservatory. And by the time she joined Eroica, she was also world-acclaimed. (Even I had heard of Susie Park and I'm not a "classical only is my world" kind of guy.) And like the others, she keeps the view pleasant.

So currently the group is: Erika Nickrenz, piano; Susie Park, violin; Sara Sant'Ambrogio, cello.

   Their current release, their 8th, "An American Journey", explores a more present-day pop culture arena, not a new venture for them in terms of recent composers, but this gets into Gershwin, Bernstein and a new work referencing Johnny Cash. What I've heard so far (on the MySpace site) is well-done just like the historic pieces of "Baroque" but the new composition seems to me less elegant in comparison. Eroica did a creditable job, they didn't drop the ball, it isn't a "fault". The material and classical musicians just have a hard time meshing smoothly, IMHO. Maybe that's me. Give them a listen and see. And remember, if you don't like this disc, there are seven previous ones to check out.
   On musical styles: Symphony orchestras and classical ensembles have never sounded at home (to me) playing the likes of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" and so on... rather like training an elephant to tap dance. However admirably the elephant (generally a graceful creature) performs, it's never quite "there", never quite as graceful as the creature in its natural environment. The Trio is far more agile than an orchestra but there are still odd moments of pacing. Oh well. You may disagree.

   Their concerts include a variety of compositions and are a lot of fun, I hear.

   Anyways.  In case I haven't meanderingly talked you out of it, I do totally intend to convey that if you have even a passing interest or bare tolerance for Classical, at least the more intimate chamber compositions, these people should be on your list of "Check Out Next".  Okay?

   To start catching up with them:

Here's a this-month article (January 2010) online:

 As a group, Eroica's label seems to be EMI Classics. Articles about them include a short stub in Wiki:

A longer one from their management group:

And re the members:

Erika Nickrenz - So far, only a page on the Eroica Trio site:

Sara Sant'Ambrogio official Web site -

Susie Park official Web site - Missing from Existence?  Would you like help with that, Susie?

Here's a nice not-so-new article on Susie:

And former member Adela:


Trio Three of Three: One More time, E.A.T.

   Okay, Eagle And Talon is supposed to be the dynamic duo and all.  But Andrew Jeffords is the quiet (?) dude who plays with them and even sings some in concerts. And I wanted an excuse to mention one more thing about them.
   I paid the money and did the download-plus-CD purchase of the album of Thracian. I expected a CD in an envelope. I got that, but much more. Let's see, there were several little animal cutouts, a flexible foam-plastic stuff intended for, say, a child's feltboard/storyboard? A tube of organic coconut-based lip balm, a packet of herb tea, a standard-sized cherry Tootsie Roll, A large chocolate Tootsie Roll, an art-critter drawing by Kim that reminds me of John Lennon's early sketches on acid, and two glossy photos: An entry into a living or dining room that has hanging plants plus what looks like a birdhouse hanging from the ceiling, and the other is Andrew dressed as a frumpy housewife talking on a house-type wireless phone by a counter on which is, uh, some bicycle seats? The effect of all these things together seemed to say to me that anything can happen and it's gonna be good fun.
   Practical considerations: It was in fact a bubble-wrap CD bag with "Your Thracian Loot Bag!!!" written on the back and the CD liner notes have some more pics (Andrew gets to wear a plaid shirt, no dress involved) and you can actually READ the lyrics in black and white. I know some artists are trying to portray a moody image and all, but small, thin brown letters on a dark background don't do it for my oculars. This readability is a GOOD thing.
   All in all, I was digging it, laughing and showing this stuff to my sons. The younger one said "They're just like you!" with what sounded like dismay. So they might not be for everyone. But somehow I think they would be pleased by that.
   I think I was one of the first buyers, so I don't know how many shipments got this treatment. I'm glad mine did. Personal, artsy, delightful, real and surreal all at the same time.
   Okay, next time I promise I'll stick to talking about somebody else.

Powered by Qumana