VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Tight Sweater’ by Marc Mellits

by Maggie Molloy

Marc Mellits makes music you can groove to. Funky rhythms, catchy riffs, and pulsing melodies—his music bursts with energy.

Tight Sweater is a prime example. Composed for the unlikely trio of cello, piano, and marimba, the piece dances through one restless and infectious groove after another, each with its own distinctive color and sound.

We’re thrilled to premiere our in-studio video of Mellits’ Tight Sweater performed by cellist Rose Bellini, pianist Brooks Tran, and marimbist Melanie Sehman.


For more music of Marc Mellits (including performances by marimbist Melanie Sehman), check out Good Vibes Only: a concert of minimalist music for vibraphones and marimbas this Friday, Aug. 30 at Washington Hall.

ALBUM REVIEW: Nathalie Joachim’s ‘Fanm d’Ayiti’

by Peter Tracy

Singer, flutist, and composer Nathalie Joachim. Photo by Josué Azor.

While cooking, walking, tending the garden, or washing clothes, the women of Haiti sing songs. For Nathalie Joachim, a Haitian-American singer, flutist, and composer, her image of Haiti is one of love, beauty, tradition, family, and, perhaps above all, music: it pervades the house after church on Sundays and communicates the stories and traditions of past generations.

On her new album Fanm d’Ayiti, Joachim taps into Haiti’s long musical history through original songs and arrangements of classics by some of Haiti’s legendary women musicians. The resulting compositions engage her Haitian heritage and continue these women’s messages of resilience, love, and hope.

On Fanm d’Ayiti, which is Haitian Creole for “Women of Haiti,” traditional songs are treated in a radically new way, with original arrangements featuring voice, flute, and electronics by Joachim and strings performed by the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet. Woven into the mix are recordings of a Haitian girls’ choir from Joachim’s family home, interviews with some of Haiti’s best-known female voices, and the voice of Joachim’s own grandmother. These elements come together to form something that feels both old and new—a musical language of tuneful songs, folk-style strings, stuttering electronics, and vibrant energy.

The album is set into motion with an arrangement of the song “Papa Loko,” which features fluttering string harmonics, skipping electronic percussion, and a bouncy arpeggiated bassline. This song segues into a recording of the Haitian singer Emerante de Pradines, who speaks about her feeling of unity with all female Haitian artists and leads us into the three-part “Suite pou Dantan,” a heartfelt dedication to the farming village that Joachim’s family calls home. Here, Joachim sings along with the girls’ choir over chaotically exuberant percussion, pairs field recording samples with steady drum tracks, and weaves winding flute melodies through the strings of the Spektral Quartet.

An arrangement of “Lamizè pa dous,” a song of African origin translating to “Poverty is Not Sweet,” gives way to the interlude “Couldn’t Tell Her What To Do,” in which we hear the moving story of the Haitian singer and justice-seeker Toto Bissainthe, as told by her daughter Milena Sandler over swelling string harmonies.

Side B of the album begins with an elegy-like arrangement of the traditional Haitian song “Manman m voye m peze kafe,” which feels almost like a theme and variations or a passacaglia with its continuous bassline, circling strings, and arpeggiating, marimba-like electronics. Two further arrangements of traditional songs follow: the grooving yet plaintive “Legba na konsole” and “Madan Bellegarde,” which features a contrapuntal duet between Joachim and the viola, a contemplative chorale of strings and flute, the voice of Joachim’s grandmother, and scattered blips of electric harmony.

Photo by Josué Azor.

This leads us finally into the interlude “The Ones I Listened To,” in which the voices of Haitian musicians Carole Demesmin, Emerante de Pradines, and Milena Sandler encourage both Nathalie and the listener to pursue their dreams despite hardships, and the title track “Fanm d’Ayiti,” a festive original song celebrating Haiti and its strong women, ending the album on a hopeful note.

It is important to remember that for Joachim and the people of Haiti, many of these songs are an integral part of their culture, traditions, and everyday lives. Joachim has said that songs like “Lamizè pa dous” are not only songs to sing while working, but were used by slaves to communicate with each other in ways that their oppressors couldn’t understand, much like the Negro spirituals of the United States.

In a certain sense, these songs continue to serve that purpose. Many of the Haitian Creole songs on this album were sung by women during the worst periods of intellectual repression and dictatorship in Haiti’s history as a way of maintaining their language and traditions—and it is these subtle acts of subversion that Joachim celebrates in her arrangements. On Fanm d’Ayiti, Nathalie Joachim continues the lineage of Haitian women who bring together communities, pass on their culture, and fight for justice through their music.


Nathalie Joachim’s Fanm d’Ayiti is out August 30 on New Amsterdam Records. For more information, click here.

Summer Vibes (and Marimbas!) with Erin Jorgensen and Friends

by Peter Tracy

Rebekah Ko is part of an all-star cast of local percussionists featured in Good Vibes Only.
Photos by Kelly O.

For vacationers, beachgoers, and students fresh out of class, summertime is all about good vibes. But what about musicians and concertgoers? If the seasonal concert slump has put a damper on your summer, cheer up with Good Vibes Only: a one-night-only concert event featuring music for marimbas and vibraphones that’s sure to lift your end-of-summer spirits.

For Seattle-based marimbist Erin Jorgensen, the mastermind behind the concert, Good Vibes Only came about rather organically as a way to showcase local percussionists. Set for August 30 in the historic Washington Hall, the concert presents minimalist works in a laid-back atmosphere, with immersive visuals designed to enhance the music.

“Basically, I was thinking ‘summertime’: there are a lot of good players here, mallet music sounds very summery,” Jorgensen said. “And along those same lines, I love minimalism, so I wanted it all to be in that kind of vein.”

These things in mind, Jorgensen pulled together an all-star lineup—including local musicians Storm Benjamin, Rebekah Ko, Kerry O’Brien, Kay Reilly, and Melanie Sehman—to put together a program of minimalist and post-minimalist grooves for marimba and vibraphone. From the phasing patterns of Steve Reich to the bouncy, rhythmic melodies of Ivan Trevino and the funk-inspired energy of Marc Mellits, the concert showcases many different interpretations of minimalism.

Erin Jorgensen, Storm Benjamin, and Rebekah Ko.

And if the label of “minimalism” sounds too academic, Jorgensen certainly doesn’t want it to be. She has ambitious plans to create a one-of-a-kind concert experience for Good Vibes Only, complete with original lighting design and other DIY visuals. She’s working to tailor these visuals to the program, whether that be the colorful neon of Mellit’s “Gravity” or the more sprightly and summery marimba duet “2+1” by Ivan Trevino.

“I’ll just listen to a piece and get an idea or visual, and then think about how I can execute that myself without a big crew,” Jorgensen said.

The resulting concert environment envelops the audience in sound and color, transforming the way they experience the music. It also allows both the performers and the audience to connect with the music in a different way, free from the prescriptions of classical concert etiquette. For this performance Jorgensen and the rest of the musicians are forgoing the formal concert attire—and the stage.

“There’s something about that [formal] environment that makes you expect a certain thing,” she said. “You definitely are in a certain headspace, you’re dressed a certain way, you’re listening a certain way, so I think if you can kind of circumvent that a little bit people can enjoy it more.”

This ethos is behind the decision to eschew the hall’s raised stage for this concert, but it also guides a lot of Jorgensen’s other projects, whether that be her ambient Undertones Podcast or her Bach and Pancakes series, in which she performs Bach’s cello suites on marimba while the audience eats pancakes. What these all have in common is a more immersive, contemplative experience of the music—something that Jorgensen feels drawn to. Rather than taking the audience on a journey, she encourages a more laid-back, audience-guided listening experience where you’re welcome to close your eyes or daydream along with the music.

“I like being in those kinds of environments,” Jorgensen said. “I’ve done a lot of art shows with DIY lighting and things like that, and I think you can make that really magical. It’s also a product of being tired of people thinking that there’s only one way to do a concert, when really you can do it however you want.”

With its relaxed atmosphere and groove-driven tunes, the concert will provide something many of us might be in need of as the summer winds to a close: good music, good friends, and good vibes.


Good Vibes Only is Friday, Aug. 30 at 8pm at Washington Hall. For tickets and more information, click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Saro’ by The Westerlies

by Maggie Molloy

The Westerlies. From left: Chloe Rowlands, Riley Mulherkar, Willem de Koch, Andy Clausen.

An old English ballad gets a brassy new spin in the Westerlies’ rendition of “Saro,” which borrows from an arrangement by Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon.

The tune, which dates back to the 18th century, is timeless in its bittersweet melody and melancholy lyrics⁠—the wrenching memory of a love just out of reach. Yet the Westerlies capture the tune’s heartache and spin it into hope without using any words at all, their radiant melodies and hymn-like harmonies telling a new tale of the poor man and his pretty Saro.

We’re thrilled to premiere our in-studio video of the Westerlies performing “Saro.”

Sneak Peek Audio Leak: Donnacha Dennehy’s ‘The Hunger’

by Peter Tracy

Donnacha Dennehy is an Irish composer who is intensely interested in the music and culture of his homeland. Whether it be setting Irish poets like William Butler Yeats or incorporating Irish folk traditions into his music, Dennehy frequently celebrates his roots while retaining his colorful, vibrant, and forward-thinking musical style.

This is certainly the case on his upcoming album The Hunger, a collaboration with the always inventive Alarm Will Sound featuring soprano Katherine Manley and Iarla Ó Lionáird, a singer specializing in sean-nós (“old style”) singing—a typically melismatic and highly ornamented style sung in the Gaelic language. The album consists of a stirring cantata remembering Ireland’s Great Famine (1845-1849) by setting first-hand accounts from American humanitarian Asenath Nicholson and utilizing material from a sean-nós style song of the period titled “Na Prátaí Dubha” (Black Potatoes).

One of the most emotionally powerful moments on the album is the movement “I Feared He Would Die,” which depicts a starving old man (represented by Iarla Ó Lionáird) who is continually denied the food he needs for himself and the children under his care to survive. Asenath Nicholson, as represented by Katherine Manley, tells of the callousness of the English officers and the harsh reality of the famine over fluttering strings and undulating harmonies.

Hear it here first ahead of the album’s August 23 release date.


Donnacha Dennehy’s The Hunger is out August 23 on Nonesuch Records. For more information, click here.