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Strings Meet Ska, Jamaica Goes Balkan at Jason Seed-Tritonics Show

Mar. 7, 2017
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Talk about a curious double bill: a chamber string ensemble sharing the stage with a reggae-ska act? That’s what’s in store at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn this Friday when the Jason Seed Stringtet opens for The Tritonics—but let’s not say open, which implies lesser status.

As Tritonics vocalist-keyboardist Jeff Stehr and the Stringtet’s violist Glen Asch insist, the running order is based on building an emotional arc for the performance. The Stringtet’s music is more cerebral by nature. As for The Tritonics, “by the second song, everybody’s out of their chair dancing,” Asch says.

Asch forms the link between the otherwise disparate bands. He plays viola in both ensembles. A member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Asch has proven tireless in pursuit of other repertoire. On the fourth Monday of every month, he plays gypsy swing with the Chris Hanson Band at the Astor Hotel. That the classical echoes of the Stringtet would appeal to him is unsurprising, but reggae?

“I like the challenge of soloing within more limited choices,” he says of reggae’s rock-steady groove. “Coming from a classical and jazz background, there’s a tendency to want to impress people with my clever ideas. That doesn’t matter much in reggae. It’s been good for me—culling some of that clever filler.” 

Led by the brilliantly eclectic onetime Milwaukee guitarist (and now Chicagoan) Jason Seed, the Stringtet is also eager to sift out the chaff of cleverness. “My understanding of how to write for instruments and for people has gotten a lot better,” Seed says. “Figuring out how to keep where you’re headed in mind, while trying to surf the correct best ideas, is something I’m trying to get better at.”

The Stringtet otherwise consists of current or former MSO members such as Helen Reich (viola), Scott Tisdel (cello) and Dan Armstrong (bass). “The groove is ethnic, Latin American and Balkan,” Asch says. “I was prepared for this from my interest in Bartók and Prokofiev—that material works its way into my improvisational style.”

While The Tritonics are rhythmically Jamaican, the addition of viola speaks to the band’s unconventional ways. “We take stylistic liberties with the reggae tradition,” Stehr says. “We’re not constrained by it.” On their 2016 album of original songs, Dance Crasher, Asch continues his Balkan journey, weaving klezmer-sounding notes around Dave Cusma’s trombone. With the groove kept by drummer Dave Bolyard and guitarist Tom Plutschack, The Tritonics feel free on stage to play reggaefied renditions of Beatles, Kinks, Burt Bacharach and Amy Winehouse songs. They also do loads of fast-paced instrumentals.

“My lament is that in the ’70s, instrumental pop music disappeared from the airwaves,” Stehr says. “We try to bring those beautiful melodies into our sets.”

The Jason Seed Stringtet and The Tritonics perform beginning at 8 p.m., March 10, at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn, 1001 E. Locust St.

Friday, Mar 10
Linneman's Riverwest Inn

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