Decades-old jazz band Ann Arbor reunites to find fame and success
To celebrate their growing success, the members return to Ann Arbor for a show.
AWhile meetings are generally focused on hindsight and catching up, this was not the case with the Lunar Octet, a Latin jazz group formed in 1983 by students from the University of Michigan.
A performance reunion of the Octet, after some 12 years of membership changes and nearly 20 years of disbandment, takes the group forward with a recording now internationally acclaimed as it airs on numerous radio stations.
Convergence, containing 14 tracks of original Lunar Octet compositions, was released by Summit Records in May. It tops the jazz charts and attracts invitations to performances from venues across three continents.
To celebrate their growing success, the members return to Ann Arbor for a performance of the tracks and possibly the numbers written since. They will perform on Wednesday evening, August 11, at the Blue Llama Jazz Club.
Aron Kaufman, a composer-percussionist with the original group and still living in Ann Arbor, composed five of the numbers, each with a story behind it, just like the album title. Kaufman’s commitment to the Lunar Octet style continues as he teaches Jewish studies at Hillel Day School and Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, and performs with other groups.
“Jon Krosnick, our drummer who lives in California, motivated people to perform again,” Kaufman said. “We did a show and were encouraged to record the numbers. We found the title Convergence because of the way we had to coordinate the rehearsals of the mostly instrumental pieces. This involved travel from the eastern and western United States so that everyone could converge on Ann Arbor.
“Convergence it is also a convergence of musical styles that bring together a jazz matrix with flavors from the world of the African continent as well as countries including Cuba and Brazil. There are sound variations that you would not normally find on a single recording, as we highlight our individual musical expressions which have many global influences.
The original musical intention of the members was captured in the band’s first name, Lunar Glee Club, which was to suggest singing through instruments, not vocalizing. In this vein, the first song on the album, “Norm’s Nambo”, was written by Kaufman with a mambo beat as a tribute to a former mentor.
“When I first started playing conga, I studied with Norm Shobey,” Kaufman explained. “He had performed on Broadway and had briefly performed with the 5th Dimension band. Norm was an incredibly creative conga player who took different rhythms and creatively combined them. It inspired me to think about music creatively.
Another Kaufman number is “Heart of Congatar,” based on a motif he played using four conga drums. After a fellow musician said that the four drums combined sounded like a tune, Kaufman realized that composing was something that could be done using congas instead of the usual piano or guitar. The title is a play on words which associates the conga and the guitar.
Other Kaufman songs on the recording, sometimes explained live, include “Oye”, “Subway Tension” and “Dancin ‘in the Doghouse”.
“Because of the relationship between the musicians and the way we’ve grown over the years, we’re a genre-breaking band,” said Kaufman, whose musicality also makes it appear with his own Dream Ensemble, Gemini and Tumbao Bravo. “We have multiple influences and find that it all works together. It’s all our personal soul music.
Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University who provides policy advice on voting for the federal government, is delighted with the acceptance of the continuous style of the Lunar Octet.
Appearing regularly with the group Charged Particles, which takes him to foreign countries, he is happy that an ongoing recording project connects him to his Jewish roots. Charged Particles has performed in many Jewish centers as they play tribute music to Michael Brecker, the late Jewish composer-saxophonist.
“We’re just out of breath, stunned and completely stunned by the world’s reaction to the Lunar Octet recording,” said Krosnick, who made the initial contact with Summit Records. “We are submitted for a Grammy nomination, and we are touched by it.”
Part of the fun the band has experienced is the many rave reviews in renowned jazz publications, such as Jazziz and Highligths. Critics repeat, liking the cheerful sounds that seem to make listeners want to dance.
“We worked for about 10 years perfecting our music and became more mature players during our 20-year hiatus with the Lunar Octet,” said Krosnick. “We came back from the break playing this music again with a new song on the recording -“ Until I Find the Words ”by Stephen Hiltner. “
The Lunar Octet will appear from 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 11, at the Blue Llama Jazz Club, 314 S. Main, Ann Arbor. Three sets of 45 minutes. $ 10. (734) 372-3200. bluellamaclub.com.