Thursday, November 24, 2011

Miller, Bonfield and the sounds of the season

Kristen Miller and Ken Bonfield perform 'Soulful Strings' Dec. 4.
Kristen Miller is a cellist who has been turning the instrument on its head for years, mixing hypnotic African rhythms and Eastern melodies with rock attitude, vocabulary and gear. Ken Bonfield is a Gloucester-based multi-instrumentalist who has developed a style that's difficult to pin down, combining elements of folk, Celtic, classical and blues for acoustic guitar to create a mash he calls, for better or worse, fojazzical. They've both got Christmas albums out: Bonfield’s subdued, introspective “WinterNight,” coming out more than a decade ago, and Miller’s 2010 “Winter Loves Company,” a collaboration with sound guru Tom Eaton, a sweet mix of cello and piano with a Windham Hill sensibility. Both include fresh arrangements of traditional carols as well as original seasonal compositions. They'll be playing a holiday show together next week, but, given their idosyncatic musical histories, it is unlikely that their “Soulful Strings,” show at the First Religious Society Unitarian Universalist  Church in Newburyport next week will be your traditional rum-pa-pa-pum kind of show, but it’s gonna be nice.
Bonfield and Miller have been playing together a lot these days, the last big show being "Frets & Strings: An Evening of String Music and Other Delights" this summer in Gloucester. And they've been having a lot of fun with the collaboration, says Miller. "I love the sound of cello and guitar together," says the cellist, who recently wrote and performed live soundtracks for three Maya Deren short silent films. "Ken is one of the best guitarists in America right now, and I am really happy to be playing with him. Ken is playing a lot of harp guitar these days, which covers the entire symphonic range. And as you know, cello has four octaves, and so we’re having a blast finding out how the cello and harp guitar compliment each other,” says Miller, whose third solo album, “Walk,” was named one of the Top 20 discs of 2010 by Metronome Magazine. “And of course, we are exploiting that buttery, soaring quality of the cello against the harmonic fullness of the guitar. It is truly mind-blowing in the Unitarian Universalist church, as it wraps around all those columns.”

Bonfield will be playing that crazy hybrid instrument, the Carruth Harp Guitar — essentially a guitar with a separate-but-attached soundboard for five sub-bass strings, dramatically increasing the sonic possibilities of the instrument. Miller will be playing a gorgeous handcrafted turn-of-the-last-century Leon Bernardel cello tricked out with a vintage Tube Screamer distortion box and a battery of effects pedals. With these instruments, they will be approaching the familiar from a different neighborhood. Expect traditional favorites and original compositions.They'll play separately and together. Expect new takes on traditional faves. Expect moody candelight, lots of it, to ramp up the ethereal quality of the performance. Expect a good time.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: 'Soulful Strings" is at 5 p.m. Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 26 Pleasant St., Newburyport. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors. 

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