Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Sep 17th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Reclaimed and Reinvented

Fishtank Ensemble turns the gypsy music stereotype on its head

When you hear sultry vocalist Ursula Knudson wail on “Woman in Sin,” it’s hard not to imagine a mythic Gypsy woman covered in jewels and scarves, and surrounded by accordion players.  

Though historically tainted with negative connotations, “Gypsy” is the popular term that refers to the Roma people. Their deep ethnic history is a 1500-year story of multiple movements between diverse regions and cultural acclimation and preservation, which has fueled the mystique and stereotype of the free-spirited Gypsy.

But Knudson and her trio of musicians—spontaneously named Fishtank Ensemble—aren’t waking up the streets of Turkey, Spain, or Serbia. They’re based in Los Angeles, Calif., where they bring the world music scene to rowdy club audiences. Knudson sees it as the “natural evolution of that music across the water, all the way over here.”

The Gypsy rock stars first came together in 2004 in a warehouse in Oakland, with no intention of becoming a band. It was there that Knudson, Fabrice Martinez (violin), Douglas Smolens (guitar), and Djordje Stijepovic (bass)—each with his/her own epic tales of musical wanderlust—combined their wealth of Balkan, Gypsy-jazz knowledge and watched it evolve into an exciting new brand of American-Gypsy that plays by its own rules.
Soon after their serendipitous jam session, the group played an impromptu show in Santa Cruz. After receiving an enthusiastic response, Fishtank Ensemble kept at it, and spent the next few years “learning how to be a band, figuring out how to tour and play,” says Knudson.

Though classically trained and technically impressive, today the band concerns itself with keeping energy and excitement levels up, rather than focusing on perfection.
“Fabrice was telling me that in Romania under one rule they had these cultural police,” Knudson says with a laugh. “And if musicians didn’t adhere to the absolute traditional way of playing, it was trouble for them, so people had really high standards of playing perfectly.”

Instead, Fishtank Ensemble embraces the (sometimes messy) chaos in favor of fun. “Shredding,” Knudson interrupts. “Shredding on the bass, violin, guitar.”

The band’s eventual relocation to Los Angeles from the already-cultivated world music scene in the Bay Area, was strategically satisfying to Knudson. “We were trying to get with the less obvious choice,” Knudson explains. “For me, it’s really important rather than go to a place where there’s already a really strong scene, to try and start elsewhere. I think we had a really big part in helping grow this music scene here and I’m really proud of that.”
The ensemble works hard to maintain its influence on the scene with a vibrant live show that has grown to include Knudson’s peculiar musical saw talent (an instrument that she says adds unparalleled texture) and Stijepovic’s renowned slap bass technique. Each member is also constantly looking for new material to keep their line-up fresh.

In the midst of creating a new album to follow their acclaimed Woman in Sin, Knudson has the search on her mind. “We really look for the stuff that nobody ever hears,” she explains. “The last album we were just like, ‘sure, lets do these Serbian, mega super traditional hits,’ but now we want something unusual.” The result of that pursuit has been “going further east” as well as infusing ’20s and ’30s American jazz.
“It’s a fine line, between tradition and keeping it fresh,” says Knudson, “but our philosophy’s ultimately about seeing everyone excited to come back.”


Fishtank Ensemble plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. Tickets are $12/adv, $15/door. For more info, call 603-2294.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

A Different Revolution

Aries Moon late Wednesday and Thursday. We think new thoughts and initiate new ideas. Sun in Virgo with Saturn in Scorpio help disciples to create orderly structures to anchor and bring forth new ideas. Stabilizing Taurus moon Friday and Saturday. We anchor new ideas into form and matter, like seeds planted in the soil. We tend them, waiting for green shoots to emerge. Like the gestating Virgo Sun Madonna, awaiting the birth of the holy child, the Soul, the new light at winter solstice. Mercury and Chiron converse about what hurts and what heals.Saturday is a complex day with Mercury (communication), Mars (action!) and Uranus (revolution). Mercury in Libra is opposite Uranus in Aries. Oppositions (recognizing something new appearing over there somewhere) eventually synthesize. Mercury in Libra calls for Right Action and Right Relations, especially with money. Uranus in Aries—the revolution this time must be different.  Also on Saturday, Mars enters Sagittarius. Where are we going, what are our goals, where’s justice, where’s the mountain, do we have good shoes? Sunday Venus trines Pluto—in-depth assessment of money, values and resources. Gemini moon Monday; we talk a lot, tending to tasks in gardens and neighborhoods. Cancer Moon Tuesday and Wednesday; we nurture and nourish. The stars and planets remind us.Note: William Meader, esoteric author & international teacher, will be speaking on “The Soul of Humanity Evolving Through Crisis” at Meditation Mount, 7pm, Friday, Sept. 12.

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of September 12

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >

 

Watch List

From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

What's your all-time best Skyview Flea Market score?

Santa Cruz | eBay Business

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Soquel’s Pinot Winner

When you taste Soquel Vineyards’ extraordinary 2012 Partners’ Reserve Pinot Noir, you will know why it won a Double Gold in June at the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition.

 

Wood Fire Woodie

Scotts Valley pizzeria gets fired up the old-school way