Monday, September 07, 2009

Polkastra: Apolkalypse Now

Apolkalypse Now

Trumpet, fiddle, French horn, bassoon and contra bassoon, classical violin, digeridoo, electric bass, vibraphone, accordion, and other sorts of percussion, all together and all playing -- polka?

Yes, and the polkas they play come from ideas based in central Europe, Canada, the work of classical composers Beethoven and Johann Strauss, Israel, Hungary,and other points of the compass. So, okay, all that could be a mess or a mixup or what it is, an engaging collection by musicians who value collaboration, connection, and humor as highly as they do their razor sharp and always inventive musicianship. Lara St. John, the classical violinist and executive producer of the bunch, is the only one who knew all the other players as the idea of this improbable and very successful album emerged. She’s known for her recordings of Bach and Vivaldi as well as gypsy music. Daniel Lapp, who plays fiddle [yes, by the way, the violin and the fiddle are the same instrument....] and doubles on the trumpet, is a composer and performer who is always investigating some new turn in the musical road; Andy Doe is a classically trained horn player who has worked in a ska band; William Barton is Australia foremost digeridoo player, Mark Timmerman plays bassoon and contrabassoon with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Ronn Yedidia, who plays accordion, comes from Israel, and Jack Campbell, jack of all trades, plays electric bass.

If you’re thinking polka is a stuffy or dated music, think again -- it’s a vibrant dance style which began in central Europe, and as these players will show you, both took off around the world and is capable of endless invention. Here you will find the Romanian based Sibra to Light as a Feather Polka by Johann Strauss to Caribou Shuffle from British Columbia to Yedidia’s original Celtic Kalkadunga Polka and Lapp’s title track. The musicians put all this together with two days of rehearsal and one day of recording, and that energy comes through. It’s a recording that’s both really fun to listen to [and to dance to] and reveals new aspects with each listen. And they didn’t even get to Texas polka or Irish or Norweigian...yet. Given their individual careers, Polkastra is not exactly a regularly touring group, but let’s hope they have another recording session or two in their future to find out what other unexpected directions they’ll dance with the polka.

you may also want to see

Music Road: now playing: Athena Tergis: Letter Home

Music Road: hanneke cassel

Music Road: now playing: Crooked Still: Still Crooked

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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