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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Jason Seed’s Symphonic Elixir

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   When he lived in Milwaukee, guitarist Jason Seed was often thought of as a jazz musician, probably because he was often seen at the Estate club on the city's East Side. But one listen to his music and any one label begins to sound tiny, incapable of encompassing the sonic space Seed inhabits.

  "So, basically, genre be damned," says Seed, who now mostly splits his time between Chicago and Austin but returns to Milwaukee periodically to gig and record. He calls his music "rockdixiefunkinjazzgypsyclassicadelitango" and that only begins to describe the sound of his new CD with the Elixir Ensemble, 3. Recorded by Milwaukee guitarist-producer Scott Finch at the Velvet Sky Studio in Riverwest, 3's richness demands repeated and close listening.

  The material, most of it written since the release of his previous CD, Where the Corners Meet, "was constructed to bring out the talents and strong points of everyone involved." The baker's dozen musicians on 3 include bassist Dan Armstrong of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and several members of the Milwaukee Symphony, among them cellist Scott Tisdel, clarinetist Bill Helmers, violinist Glenn Asch and violist Helen Reich.

  The music veers in and out of time and space. The rubber band rhythmic snap of 3's opening track, "A Glimpse," gives way to a sunny melody that could have flowed from the pen of an early 20th century American composer. How about Samuel Barber after a stroll down the boardwalk past the cotton candy stand? A pastoral folk mood opens "In the Rows" while echoes of faraway klezmer are heard in the urgent tempi and melodies of "Vlad the Inhaler." A Latin rhythm sets the pace under the drunken, seesaw cabaret violins of "Everything You Wanna Say." The ruminative "On a Tuesday" is reminiscent of Nick Drake.

  And on 3 goes, pulling in snatches of modern classical music and swatches from the Hot Club of Paris as it rolls from number to number. "If it's something that personally moves me," Seed explains, "be it rock, funk, jazz, folk, Eastern European Gypsy music, Dixieland, classical music, tango infused with whatever-the-hell with a dash Mingus and a pinch of Bach, elements are free to bubble up to the surface."

  As for Milwaukee, it "has so much talent, it's just absurd, but getting people out to hear shows in clubs is really very difficult," Seed says. He compares it to Austin, with a comparable population but a larger local music scene, "which leads you to wonder what difference there is in the general mindset that makes one city a music Mecca and the other such a struggle."

Jason Seed's Elixir Ensemble performs at 8 p.m., Aug. 23 at Shank Hall. De La Buena opens the show.

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