Duo Teams Up Sight Unseen
BY KATHERINE SMITH
Special to The Pilot
Matt Munisteri and Joe Craven will be performing and improvising together at The Rooster's Wife in Aberdeen on Sunday, Dec. 16.
Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 6:45 p.m.
The two have never formally met and have exchanged only a few emails so far.
During the first half of The Rooster's Wife show, Munisteri will play songs from his latest project, "Still Runnin' 'Round the Wilderness." During the second half, Munisteri and Craven will improvise Christmas songs.
Munisteri has a savory, bluesy voice and plays a cabaret mix of the music that interests him.
Since his early 30s, he has been a blue-collar guitarist, traveling across the U.S. and other countries to work with jazz and Americana artists. He has worked with violinist Mark O'Connor's hot swing, Steven Bernstein's "downtown super group," and Catherine Russell, for whom he also serves as music director.
Earlier this month he was in Milano, playing with the irreverent jazz insurrectionists of Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra.
But he also plays music for himself.
He graduated from Brown University with a degree in religion before realizing he had "ignored the work that I needed to do since I was 17," he says. "I knew I wanted to play jazz and speak and understand the language. I knew I had to be able to."
His lyrics "come from misery and a sort of survival," he says. But the two are used for propellant, not always as subject matter.
The songs for his latest project were written by Willard Robinson between 1924 and 1930. Robinson played a folksy-stride piano and arranged music for foxtrot and jazz musicians.
But Robinson was also a singer-songwriter of jazz, classical, ragtime and blues - his lesser-known niche. He wrote, orchestrated, conducted and sang his own undeniably American recordings - melodic and melancholy with scenes of snaky Biblical references, Southern Swanee River preachers and the devil.
The recordings were passed over by the CD era. But when Munisteri discovered Robinson's music in 2000, he began hunting down the original 78 RPM records, tapes, acetates and sheet music.
For several years, he recreated Robinson's originals with a modern twist.
"How the music was played intrigued me," Munisteri says. "After all this time, the tune would present itself to me in a certain way of 'Wow, this feels really good.'"
Munisteri's voice and composition sound milder on the album than the original smoky blues records.
"He interacted with his own time as well as what came before," Munisteri says. "He was playing this music that didn't really fit in anywhere. I've always too felt like I was existing out of time and place."
Munisteri's album "Hell Among the Hedgehogs," released earlier this year with Whit Smith, is a record of resurrected hot jazz with songs like the electro-swing "Deep Henderson" and joyous "Muskrat Ramble."
His album "Love Story," recorded with his band Brock Mumford, is foggy with an accordion, bass, drums, mandolin, organ and Puje trumpet. Eight of the 14 songs are Munisteri originals, with favorites "Sparkle," "Johnny" and "Let's Do Something Bad."
Joe Craven is a one-man-band, a caroler, an educator, a visual artist and an actor. He is like a musical circus, opting to tap, fiddle, thump, smack or blow on anything that makes a sound.
Craven has paired with blues slide guitar master Roy Rogers, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, The Persuasions and The Horseflies. He was the recipient of the 2009 Folk Alliance Far-West Performer of the Year, many regional awards, and his collaborations have been nominated for many Grammes.
At age 12, Craven's electric guitar and longed-for "amp the size of Mom's fridge" was his tunnel to multi-instrumentalism.
"When I heard Jimi Hendrix, it was an epiphany experience," he says. "I didn't really realize that what I was listening to was a guitar ... It was magic to me. Music is about magic."
He was "informally trained" in his Georgia and North Carolina hometowns.
"I do not read music," he says. "I engage in oral literacy ... the folk process."
Craven graduated cum laude with degrees in musicology and aesthetics from the University of South Carolina.
Initiated by Santana, Craven became infatuated with hand percussion.
"I starting playing my fiddle case and waste buckets," he says. "Then I discovered bongos and more conventional percussion, and I expanded my toolbox."
He plays Middle Eastern music, Asian music, world music, American fiddle music, Cuban, Moroccan, and Latin swing on his five albums.
All of his music is what he calls "cross pollination."
"I love to play it as is just as much as I love to play Delta blues with the dude from Syria," he says.
His album "Mo' Joe," released in 2002, is made up of standard Bill Monroe bluegrass. But Craven resurrects the original influence - 1757 Germanic music.
Craven teaches and plays "informally" and in what he calls an "empowerment style."
"It's lighting the spark and making sure it doesn't go out," he says.
Clients include numerous schools, detention centers, special needs facilities, music camps, American String Teacher? s Association and corporate clients such as Wells Fargo and Enloe Medical Center. He is the director of RiverTunes Music Camp and is co-director for the Wintergrass Youth Academy.
"You don't work the guitar, violin or creative writing," he says. "You play. There's a sense of spontaneity, of learning to be able to improvise without being attached to outcome."
He says "focus and discipline" are the balances and means to the hopeful end.
Craven's music is "a personal blueprint," he says.
But it is one that can be studied and learned from by his audience.
He says that foremost, he wants his listeners to know that "what I'm doing - they can do this too."
Tickets for the performance are $17 and are available online at theroosters wife.org and at the door.
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