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Fishtank Ensemble Provides Peerless Performance!

Venue: One Longfellow Square, Portland, ME ~ September 30, 2012 ~

Oct 27, 2012

Kimmy Sophia Brown

There is a famous scene in the movie, Chariots of Fire, in which runners Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams are in a dead heat during an Olympic race. Harold Abrahams glances at Eric Liddell to see how he’s doing, and that disruption of focus costs him the race. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as it were!

The reason I mention this is that the Fishtank Ensemble, as a band, is still relatively under the radar. The music world has countless bands and singers competing for the attention of the public, but many of them seem to be glancing at the competition rather than focusing on their own personal best.

This band is an amalgamation of individuals who have steeped themselves in various genres, and like a fine restaurant, have a musical kitchen stocked with rare wines, exotic spices, tempting delicacies and feasts for the ears.

The astounding set we witnessed in Portland was like a shifting of seismic plates that issued forth a tsunami of mesmerizing rhythms and harmonies. The band members are nearly like citizens of different planets.

Fabrice Martinez, born in France, is an accomplished musician on many instruments, although we witnessed him as a wizard of the violin. Lean in body and face, with earrings and a bohemian haircut, he played primarily in the Roma (calloquially called gypsy) style. He looked serious for most of the show, except for endearing moments when he beamed warmly into the face of his young son who was near the stage playing, dancing and swinging on a pole during the performance. Fabrice spent eight years traveling in France, Italy and Eastern Europe in a caravan he built himself, pulled by a mule, while he studied ethnic music in its raw forms.

This is where female chanteuse, Ursula Knudson, also on musical travels, met Fabrice. They later married and continued performing and traveling, continuously adding to their repertoire of songs and musical styles. Knudson is a classically trained vocalist, who likens her style to the exotic Peruvian singer, Yma Sumac, who possessed a four and a half octave range. Knudson traverses vocally between Maria Callas, Betty Boop and Peggy Lee, undulating and purring behind half-open eyes and what some might say is a very friendly facial expression. Add to her vocal dimensions that she is an accomplished violinist, miniature banjo-ist and plays the musical saw. She has quite the astonishing array of skills!

Douglas, “el douje” Smolens spent his life immersed in Flamenco music and also played rock and roll. He looked almost like he belonged in a country western band, with his sturdy body, short blond hair and cowboy shirt, but his powerful hands were very impressive, snapping out dozens of arpeggio falsetas interwoven with everything else the band was playing. He is a very solid and accomplished component of this unique group.

Topping off this impressive quartet is Djordje Stijepovic, a Serbian rockabilly slap-bassist. He had a masterful and commanding presence and although I did not get a chance to look at his hands, they must have been as calloused as bear paws. He is billed as one of the best slap-bassists in the world and I believe it.

They played what could be classified as “world music”, but ground through their own musical sausage maker. Their manouche or “Django” type gypsy tunes, Greek, Serbian or Romanian folksongs, or interpretation of music by George Frederic Handel was a nonstop frenzy, smoked above a fire of tumultuous virtuosity.

When Fabrice broke and changed a violin string, Ursula captivated the crowd with a smoldering cover of the Peggy Lee hit, “Fever”, while Djordje snapped out the libidinous, familiar bass line. 

At the end of their set, the child with the long blond hair that had been doing gymnastics opposite Fabrice’s beaming smiles, was hoisted up onto the body of Djordje’s bass, and slapped the strings in sync with him. Of course, that melted the hearts of everyone in the audience. Then he jumped down from the bass when Fabrice began to coax squeaky notes from a dangling violin string that he pulled between his fingers. The boy, after greasing up his own fingers, did the same. Oh, to grow up on the road with touring parents. Let’s wait to hear from this boy in ten years, when he’s playing in his own band.

Fishtank Ensemble has an entirely original sound, start to finish, top to bottom, imitating no-one, yet playing anything and everything with zest and passion. They may not appeal to everyone, but fans of any genre would be impressed. They finished to standing ovations. Check out their website at fishtankensemble.com.

Press photo from their website

For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at onelongfellowsquare.com.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember. She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.


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