Sierra Nevada Big Room
October 29th, 2012
Comprised of thumping percussive upright bass, soaring virtuoso violin, twangy flamenco jazz guitar, upbeat syncopated drums, and vocals that could shatter glass, Fishtank Ensemble is an eccentric force to be reckoned with. Their blend of gypsy, salsa, dance, folk, waltz, and world beat elements create a unique sound that cannot be encapsulated in a cheesy one liner description. Believe me, I tried. Gypsy-swing folk, samba-world-dance-thump, nothing seemed to capture the gambit of styles incorporated into the music of Fishtank Ensemble.
At their recent show at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room, one moment they played upbeat dance numbers and, before you could blink, switched to folk melodies straight from the old country, including a few numbers from Serbia. Half the time I had no idea what the language the vocals were in, but they sounded fun. Vocalist Ursula Knudson’s sultry vocals, immense range, and shining falsettos coupled with the music perfectly. Not only did she show off her pipes, but also exhibited her musical skills on violin, banjolele (a weird banjo/uke hybrid), and even played saw. There was one song where Knudson did an amazing call and response with vocals and the shrill haunting sound of the saw. The result was an eerie duel between the two.
Each musician in the band had a chance to steal the spotlight. Fabrice Martinez laid down beautiful violin solos, shredding on his instrument until he literally snapped bow hairs and a violin string, but the technical difficulties didn’t hinder the performance. In fact, it only enhanced the show. Not only did Martinez utilize the broken string in his finale solo by pulling on it to create resonance, but the delay also opened an opportunity for Knudson and upright bass player, Djordje Stijepovic, to play a wonderful rendition of Cooley/Blackwell’s “Fever”.
Throughout the night Stijepovic hammered away on his upright bass; popping, slapping, and straight drumming on his instrument until his hand started bleeding halfway through the set. True dedication is drawing blood while playing. Guitarist Doug Smolens played a unique style of flamenco gypsy jazz guitar. It sounded almost tinny it was so twangy; his use of wah pedal really accentuated the effect. Drummer Matt Alger’s upbeat, syncopated drumming kept people dancing through the night. The driving rhythms were energetic and added an extra amount of stomp, which played into the performance perfectly.
Fishtank Ensemble delivered with an encore of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”, which dove into another driving world dance number to close the performance. All in all, the band was amazing, and promised to come back to Chico very soon. If you missed this performance, don’t make the same mistake again. Words cannot describe the experience. The high-energy show is a sight you truly have to behold to comprehend.