Minnesota Sur Seine builds international musical bridges

Roma di Luna
Photo by Karen Moon
Roma di Luna’s Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle.

In 2000, French reeds player Michel Portal and record producer Jean Rochard visited the Twin Cities and discovered our vibrant jazz community. They recorded a CD at Creation Audio called “Minneapolis” that became a hit in France.

Area musicians were soon invited to Paris; French artists were invited back. An informal cultural exchange evolved into the first Minnesota Sur Seine Music Festival in 2004.

Originally, the focus was on jazz. Now in its fourth year (the festival skipped 2007 so it could move from fall to spring, where it will stay), Sur Seine has grown to encompass rock, hip-hop, Celtic, folk, and world music. “There’s something for everyone,” says Sara Remke, who shares directing and organizing duties with her partner Rochard.

My first Minnesota Sur Seine (translation: Minnesota on the Seine) show was in 2005, when I heard vocalist Gwen Matthews with the Denis Colin Trio at the Dakota. Their music ranged from Coltrane to Hendrix, with detours into Rimbaud’s poetry, traditional Iranian tunes, and Nina Simone’s searing anthem “Four Women.” It was exotic and rich.

A sight to behold

In 2006, with a festival pass, I went to several events, starting with the sonic boom of the free-jazz opener at the Minnesota Museum of Art. On the next-to-last night at the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, skronk jazzers Fat Kid Wednesdays performed with B’net Houariyat, six singing, dancing, hair-swinging, hip-swaying, percussion-playing middle-aged women from Morocco. That was one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

Building on its history, pushing new boundaries, pulling in musicians from Paris, Ethiopia, London, Brittany, Philadelphia, New York and our own remarkably diverse local scene, the Sur Seine returns for 11 days of music starting Thursday, May 15 and continuing through Sunday, May 25.

None of the 14 events (including two afternoon music crawls) overlaps, so it’s possible to see them all. As in the past, the festival is spread over both Minneapolis and St. Paul: at the Black Dog Café, Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, the Fine Line, the Cedar Cultural Center, the Triple Rock, and other venues. A festival pass makes it more economical; the user-friendly website includes links to maps.

Someone I know took a week off work in 2006 so he wouldn’t miss a single Sur Seine performance. It’s a great idea for a hometown vacation if you’re musically inclined and adventurous. For those who must choose, here are three recommendations.

Sunday, May 18: A Night of New and Old World Roots: Roma di Luna with the Jacky Molard Quartet.
The acoustic duo Roma di Luna (Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle) started out busking at the downtown Minneapolis farmers’ market, performing folk music rooted in the American South. Violinist Molard is on the forefront of the new Celtic sound.

“It’s Brittany meets the Twin Cities,” Remke explains. “A little bit jazzy folk. Channy’s voice is hauntingly beautiful.” Cedar Cultural Center, doors open at 7 p.m., $17/$23.

Friday, May 23: Jazz at the Gallery: Dominique Pifarély Trio Invites Tim Berne; François Corneloup “Next” CD Release Party. In April, avant-garde alto saxophonist Tim Berne performed at the Walker Art Center with Drew Gress and David Torn. This time he’ll join the electric trio of Pifarély on violin, Julien Padovani on organ and Eric Groleau on drums.

Corneloup plays the baritone sax; his group Next includes Pifarély, local guitar hero Dean Magraw, Pennsylvania bassist Chico Huff, and J.T. Bates, the versatile Minnesota drummer who goes from Fat Kid Wednesdays to Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band without missing a beat.


“This will be a high-energy night,” Remke promises. “The energy of all those musicians is really amazing — infectious and quite exciting.” Minnesota Museum of American Art, 8 p.m., $18.

Saturday, May 24 or Sunday, May 25:
Lowertown Music Crawl, St. Paul. Progressive music at progressive gigs — four each day in three venues: the Black Dog, Studio Z and the Clouds in Water Zen Center (all within a block of each other).

On Saturday, hear cellist Didier Petit and violinist Gary Schulte; Berne and bassist Bruno Chevillon; Petit with St. Louis Park rappers Carnage; and NBA (Nathan Hanson, Brian Roessler, Alden Ikeda) with Petit.

On Sunday, the festival’s closing day, it’s Petit with Milo Fine; the Zeitgeist Ensemble; educator, performer, composer, and instrument maker Douglas Ewart with Petit; and trumpeter Kelly Rossum with Denis Colin on bass clarinet.

Each day will be a wild ride and “Sunday will probably just turn into a party,” Remke says. Lowertown, St. Paul, 1 p.m.-6 p.m., $10.

Three Sur Seine events are too few, so here are four more in brief:

Friday, May 16: An Evening with Federico Garcia Lorca.
Songs, poems performed in Spanish by actress Violeta Ferrer (English translations provided), and flamenco music. Central Presbyterian Church, 8 p.m., $12.

Tuesday, May 20: An Evening in Paris.
Pianist Tony Hymas plays Debussy’s complete Etudes and Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies 1 and 3. Creation Audio, 7 p.m., $9.

Thursday, May 22: Echoes of Truth, Fire Music.
Local Hmong alternative/electro-acoustic/soul group PosNoSys (Post Nomadic Syndrome), French rappers La Rumeur, and the ferocious French quartet Ursus Minor. Triple Rock Social Club, doors at 8 p.m., $12/$15, 18 and older.

Saturday, May 24: A Night in Ethiopia. BBC World Music Award winner Mahmoud Ahmed is considered the leading voice of Ethiopia. The Fine Line, doors at 8 p.m., $25/$30, 18 and older.

As you attend one or more Sur Seine events, pause to consider the logistics of an international music festival. I served on a Sur Seine committee (I resigned when I started writing for MinnPost) and got a glimpse into the Byzantine planning.

In 2006, some artists didn’t make it. This year, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s office helped with the numerous visas required. “Everybody’s in as far as we know,” Remke says. “I think it’s going to be fine.”

Minnesota Sur Seine: Musical Voyageurs in the Twin Cities. Please visit the website for complete information; not all artists and events are mentioned here, and the schedule may change.
Where: Various venues in St. Paul and Minneapolis
When: Thursday, May 15 through Sunday, May 25
How much: Individual events $8 and up. Festival passes: $100 (all shows), $50 (ages 18 to 21; all shows), $30 (under 18; all shows except 18+). Tickets available online or at the Black Dog Café.

Upcoming picks

The Out to Lunch Quintet: Originally formed for a one-time tribute to Eric Dolphy, this group proved so popular it has since made several return engagements and recorded a CD. OTLQ is Dave Milne (horns), Dave Hagedorn (vibes), Phil Hey (drums), Tom Lewis (bass), and Kelly Rossum (trumpet). The Artists’ Quarter, 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 9 and 10 ($10).

GloryLand PonyCat. I wrote about this free-jazz group in November. They’re back with even newer things including “Bonanza: The Musical.” George Cartwright (saxophones), Adam Linz (bass), and Alden Ikeda (drums) will be joined by Michelle Kinney (cello), Davu Seru (more drums), and Andrew Broder (guitar). Feed your head. Studio Z, 8 p.m. Saturday, May 10 ($8).

Typhanie Monique and Neal Alger.
Fresh from two shows at the Grand Marais Jazz Festival on Saturday, May 10, singer Monique and guitarist Alger bring their diverse sounds and styles to the Dakota. 7 p.m. Monday, May 12 ($10).

Find jazz calendars online at Jazz Police. Click on Twin Cities, MN in the black menu bar at the top. 

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