- Friday, February 7, 2014, 8 p.m.
4275 Mission Bay Drive (in the showroom at San Diego Jet Ski Rentals),
Something you don’t hear every day: musical saw. And a virtuoso musical saw at that, which is hard to define since there are so few people practicing that antediluvian backwoods art. Opera singer Ursula Knudsen may have gotten buzzed off the first round of season three of America’s Got Talent, but what she can do with a bow and a piece of tuned metal is another thing. With a hot jazz group from Los Angeles called the Fishtank Ensemble, Knudsen coaxes her blade into releasing intricate jazz patterns I didn’t think were possible from such a stubborn instrument, and her call-and-response with flamenco guitarist Douglas Smolens at times borders on the witty. At the finish of a Knudsen solo, a listener feels as if a conversation has just taken place — albeit one with a toothless saw.
The road to Fishtank Ensemble, a world-music band, was not at all that straight and narrow. Prior to the big TV snub, Knudsen immersed herself in opera by singing it on the streets in Italy. Smolens holed up in gypsy camps in Spain where he took a hands-on approach to Flamenco and the ancient art of gypsy jazz. Fabrice Martinez, the fiddler, got a big dose of gypsy life by touring Europe in a mule caravan. Add trombone, slap-bass, accordion, and banjolele (a banjo-ukulele combination) and the result is a group of performers that is feverish from a concert standpoint and a band that is likewise well-received in fashionable and trendy clubs or at road festivals — take your pick. Think: Devotchka minus the oom-pah, or Arcade Fire when they were fresh; the eccentric Fishtank Ensemble seems as if poised to be the next new thing. Not likely, even though the band’s albums are all keepers, going back to their debut, a live recording made of their inaugural performance in Oakland in 2004.