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Alice and Isaac folk duo celebrate release of debut album

Folk duo Alice and Isaac performed at Round House Theatre to celebrate the release of their debut album, “What I Was Thinking.”  PHOTO BY MATT HOOKEFolk duo Alice and Isaac performed at Round House Theatre to celebrate the release of their debut album, “What I Was Thinking.” PHOTO BY MATT HOOKE  BETHESDA — Performing at Round House Theatre, the same theater where they first met during a production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” folk duo Alice and Isaac celebrated the release of their debut album, “What I Was Thinking,” a series of upbeat love songs.

The guitar-mandolin duo, whose real names are Katie Kleigel and Brandon McCoy, met two years ago but did not play music together until this past December. The delay resulted from Kleigel’s moving to New York City after the “Miss Bennet” production. Kleigel and McCoy reconnected after she moved back to the area, and the duo started playing together between showings of the play “The Book of Will” at Round House Theatre. The name “Alice and Isaac” comes from the names of the characters they performed in the play.

“We were playing just for ourselves (in the Green Room), and every now and then someone would sit down and listen,” said Kleigel. “But I mainly felt we were in the way, taking up this shared space.”

McCoy and Kleigel are actors by trade, and their musical-theater background showed through with polished two-part-harmony vocals. The concert is part of Round House’s move to become a more-diverse arts space, according to McCoy.

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Persian music and minimalism meet at Rhizome

Bassist Ernest Jones and drummer Dave Miller join headliner Martin Bisi in a performance at the Rhizome.  PHOTO BY MATT HOOKEBassist Ernest Jones and drummer Dave Miller join legendary musician/producer Martin Bisi in a performance at the Rhizome. PHOTO BY MATT HOOKE  WASHINGTON, D.C. — With his eyes closed, engrossed in the music, and sweat dripping down his face, the Washington D.C.-based musician Kamyar Arsani sang the words: “You are Nothing but a God,” as he performed at the Rhizome near the Takoma Park Metro station in Northwest Washington, D.C.

The show displayed tremendous diversity, with Arsani’s Persian music accompanied by a set of minimalist music by Takoma Park musician Jason Mullinax and headliner Martin Bisi’s noise rock.

Arsani’s music hails from a rich tradition of Sufi mystics. He took a bare-bones approach to his set, with two instruments, his voice, and the daf. The daf, a large, handheld frame drum with metal ingots attached, is an ancient instrument, its roots stretching back hundreds of years. Arsani paid tribute to this heritage while also giving the instrument a modern touch. Arsani’s first set, a collection of original compositions, showcased the new, while his second set, an adaptation of a poem by the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi, featured the old.

The Iranian-born Arsani began the performance singing in English, before switching to Farsi. He used dynamics, masterfully switching from bombastic, impassioned sections to subdued, quiet moments, when his voice became only a whisper.

“I saw people getting shot, screaming ‘freedom’ in Farsi, and just getting shot like it was no big deal, but it was a big deal for me,” said Arsani. “When I play my instruments that’s one of my first thoughts, is ‘How can I speak to that energy? How can I channel the feelings that those people went through?’”

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Singer/songwriter produces for love of music, not money

Jim Kennedy’s latest CD reflects multiple sources of inspiration. COURTESY PHOTOJim Kennedy’s latest CD reflects multiple sources of inspiration. COURTESY PHOTO  Asking Jim Kennedy how he intends to market his new album, “The Mischief of Life,” elicits an unexpected response.

“The point is not to sell the album; the point is to make it,” said Kennedy. “Music can be produced as a consumer product with sales as the goal, or it can be [artistic] expression and craftwork. My ‘marketing strategy’ is to share the CD with people. and hope they like it. I’m not trying to become a rock star or get rich.”

If they do like it, he’ll try to put together a “good group of musicians” and perform it to attentive audiences. If that doesn’t happen, he says he’s “still perfectly satisfied” having made the CD.

Kennedy wrote all 12 songs on “The Mischief of Life.” He plays all the instruments, and did the engineering and producing. He recorded the songs in his “home studio” – a laptop on his kitchen table and a cluttered corner of his band-rehearsal room.

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Folksinger David Mallett appears in WFMA concert

Folksinger David Mallett. COURTESY PHOTOFolksinger David Mallett. COURTESY PHOTOFolksinger-songwriter David Mallett grew up in rural Maine, in a somewhat-isolated existence. That changed when, at the age of 12, he acquired a Martin – the cream of the crop of guitars – for only $120.

“My mother used to sing hillbilly songs and the songs of Jimmy Rogers around the house,” Mallett said. “And it was the time the Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary were getting their start.”

Mallett and his brother formed a duo, which played at talent shows and even won one when he was 12.

“From then on, we were on TV shows, made records,” he said. “All our spending money came from shows.”

Since releasing his first record 40 years ago, Mallett has been “doing music full time” – recording an additional 13 albums, performing, and providing material for a list of artists that includes Alison Krauss, Pete Seeger, Hal Ketchum, Emmylou Harris, John Denver and the Muppets.

One of the venues he has performed at frequently, and revisited on April 15, is Positano Ristorante Italiano in Bethesda – where the Washington, D.C.-based World Folk Music Association presents its events.

In existence since 1983, the organization is dedicated to promoting contemporary and traditional folk music, and spreading the word to both fans and folk artists, said WFMA President Chuck Morse.

“David is very special and well-known,” said Morse. “He’s the featured and only performer at our upcoming concert.”

The association offers two types of events. Showcases take place generally on the second Sunday of each month and feature primarily local performers or groups.

WFMA doesn’t sell tickets in advance for these, but does take advance reservations.

The association does sell advance tickets for concerts, which focus on individual artists.

Mallett found inspiration in Gene Autry and Johnny Cash as well as other country singers such as Marty Ross. “Basically, anyone who didn’t sing with a deep twang,” he joked.

He also sings songs by Don Gibson, the Everly Brothers, the Kingston Trio, and even the Beatles.

Despite the doubters, Mallett believes folk music and acoustic music in general are “stronger than ever. Guitar sales are up, and every day there’s a new little band,” he said.

Although it may not as obvious as during the 1960s, folk music is also the voice of “social conscience,” Mallett added. “Its appeal is also about optimism. Most of my life I wrote songs that celebrated life, love, and especially nature.”

One of Mallett’s celebratory songs – probably his most-famous in general – is “Garden Song.” He started composing the chorus when he and his father were planting together, and completed the verses later that same day, at a friend’s house.

“I still sing it at every show,” Mallett said. “I’m very proud of it.”

The folksinger-songwriter has another reason for optimism about the future of his genre of music. His sons are continuing the tradition by performing together as the Mallett Brothers.

Michelle Murray, in contrast, debuted at a WMFA event – a Showcase – on March 11.

Influenced by Joan Baez, she started playing guitar and writing songs during her first year in college.

“I heard about WFMA through the general music community,” Murray said. “Specifically, Brent Ruggles, vice president of the Association, invited me to participate in a showcase after hearing me perform at an open mic and listening to my CD. It meant a great deal to be invited to play in their concert series they provide a wonderful venue with an attentive audience.”

The showcase was also a “perfect place” to release her new EP, “This Life, My Life,” Murray added.

WFMA concerts and showcases take place at the Positano Ristorante Italiano, 4948-4940 Fairmont Avenue, Bethesda. 301-654-1717. For information about the association, visit: http://wfma.net.

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Once he was just flamenco and now Cigala is a whole lot more

Diego el Cigala sings various genres of music at The Music Center of Strathmore. COURTESY PHOTODiego el Cigala sings various genres of music at The Music Center of Strathmore.  COURTESY PHOTO  Ask people the key component in flamenco, and they’ll likely say, dance. Experts will reply that dance is only one of five elements – and singing is another.

One who illustrates the centrality of singing in flamenco is Diego el Cigala, who will appear at The Music Center of Strathmore, under the co-sponsorship of Strathmore and Washington Performing Arts.

Becoming a flamenco singer was a foregone conclusion.

“It was never a conscious decision,” el Cigala said. “I am a flamenco singer since I can remember. I won my first contest at 11 or 12 years old and started to work really early, so there was never a moment where I said: ‘Now I am going to be a singer.’”

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Nonprofit promotes folk and acoustic in County and beyond

Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO Jason Rafalak (left) often plays in duo with Brad Yoder. COURTESY PHOTO If Scott Moore has his way, Montgomery County will grow increasingly rich in folk and other acoustic music.

Moore is president of FocusMusic, which local singer/songwriter Steve Rey founded 15 years ago as a nonprofit under the auspices of the Folk Alliance 501(c)(3) umbrella.

Acoustic music venues in the area were scarce and tended to come and go, said Moore.

FocusMusic draws inspiration from places like Caffe Lena in New York City, which dates to the 1960s and featured Bob Dylan early in his career.

FocusMusic provides an intimate, “up-close” musical experience and the opportunity to discover high-quality new artists,” Moore said. “Our concerts offer personal contact with performers, a sense of belonging to a community of music-loving friends, and time to socialize.”

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Israel’s Idan Raichel in ‘stripped-down’ show sings and plays piano

Idan Raichel, on solo tour, has since shed his turban and dreadlocks.  COURTESY PHOTOIdan Raichel, on solo tour, has since shed his turban and dreadlocks. COURTESY PHOTOIsraeli world-music superstar Idan Raichel has undergone a transformation.

Gone are his signature dreadlocks and black turban. At least for a while, The Raichel Project he founded – incorporating performers and sounds from many different backgrounds – has taken a backseat.

Instead Raichel has gone on tour, performing a “stripped-down” show of songs and personal stories, jumping from acoustic to electric piano and percussion instruments.

One stop on the tour is The Music Center at Strathmore, where he appears Thursday, Feb. 22.

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Strathmore CEO announces retirement

Eliot PfanstiehlEliot Pfanstiehl Courtesy PhotoWhen Eliot Pfanstiehl was first hired in 1981 to convert the Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda into an arts center, he heard the same thing over and over again: “Why bother?”

After all, the Kennedy Center was the place to perform for artists and productions visiting the Washington, D.C. area, and with a population of roughly 500,000, and Montgomery County was considered nothing more than a bedroom community for people working in the District. As far as the arts were concerned, Pfanstiehl said, the area was “prehistoric.”

37 years later, however, the County’s population has surpassed 1 million, and the Strathmore, with its concert hall and education center, hosts 160 concerts each year, of which most, he said, draw audiences large enough to fill 80 to 85 percent of Strathmore’s 1,976 seats. Both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the National Philharmonic call the Mansion their local home, and the eclectic concerts staged at Strathmore are as varied, culturally speaking, as the residents of Montgomery County are, he said.

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Local band Aerial View launches East Coast tour in Takoma Park

Aerial View PhotoAerial View performing at the Takoma Park VFW post. PHOTO BY MATT HOOKEFriday night’s “Hibernation Station” concert at Takoma Parks VFW Post was anything but sleepyThe show,organized by the Twin Moon Arts Collective and local band Aerial View, displayed a wide variety of local talent, ranging from comedians, indie rock, and metal.

For the Silver Spring-based Aerial View the show commemorated the launch of their first-ever tour. The band will be playing six shows around the Northeast, hitting cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston.

“To see people who don’t live here, to play with various bands,a road trip is just fun.” said Aerial ViewfrontmanKjell Hansen, on the reasons for the tour.

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Singers link Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday in Strathmore concert

Catherine Russell 16 Print 1 copyCatherine Russell, jazz singer to perform with John Pizzarelli. COURTESY PHOTOFor Grammy Award-nominated jazz singer Catherine Russell, juxtaposing the music of Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday in her upcoming Strathmore concert was a given, as was performing with jazz guitarist and bandleader and vocalist John Pizzarelli.

It is to Pizzarelli who Russell attributes the idea of blending those world-class vocalists in one program. 

 “It's a natural fit since Sinatra was a great admirer of Billie Holiday and her unique singing style,” said Russell. “Both singers came up working as vocalists during the Swing Era, with big bands, before leading their own groups.”

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