Tarpigh: Monsieur Monsoon

3 little pighs

Tarpigh like it weird and funny

As a consequence of their musical eclecticism, the trio Tarpigh leave folks grasping to describe them. They’ve been called art rockers, but “Do you hear any rock in there?” asks percussionist Eric LaPerna.

Well, no, not really.

Maybe they have more of a jazz sound? Tim Harbeson, who plays everything from trumpet to pump organ to recorder, sort of frowns, “Jazz?”

Tom Kovacevic, bassist/guitarist/oud-player etc., isn’t around due to a family emergency that has called him to Gary, Indiana, but I can almost feel him sort of scowling at the thought of categorization, too [this was all done in January of 2001].

So, if Tarpigh aren’t easily identifiable, suffice it to say that they like to dress up in funny costumes, use all sorts of puppets and props, even get linked with the performance crowd, but they know their shit: Middle Eastern rhythms, extensions of jazz fusion, and old-fashioned experimentation with anything they can get their hands on.

“I can imagine doing a show of just music,” says LaPerna, “but I can’t imagine doing a show of just theater.” So, tear yourself away from their puppets, gadgets, and masks, and try to focus on their prodigious ability with unusual instruments. And try to have fun right along with them.

“I think an important part of what we do is somewhat humorous,” says Harbeson. “Intrinsically, I wouldn’t want people to take it seriously.”

“We take the music seriously,” counters LaPerna for the reporter.

Harbeson is nonplussed. “Not to discredit the music,” he says, “but I like to laugh. I like to see ridiculous things.”

Much of this comes across on Tarpigh’s debut album, Monsieur Monsoon, released on Northeast Indie, and compiled over the past two years. It opens with “Chance,” a deep, monk-like chant followed by a growing conga beat, and then some of Harbeson’s recorder. The contrast with “Wayra,” which follows, is striking as soon as the lilting flute and charango enter. They move from haunting to heavenly at the drop of a hat. It is an introduction to a circus freak show of an album that will have you sticking your face through the bars of the cage for a better look.

A short list of instruments played on this album: dholak, djun, charango, talking drum, flute, quena, trumpet, bass, toy apple, toy crank, manjitas, keyboard. There are more, some of them you may have heard of; others will be a complete mystery. So much so that it’s often guess-work to even figure out who’s making what sound.

For instance, Harbeson’s trumpet on the back-to-back “Da-O-Rama” and “Monsieur Monsoon” is a pleasure. It begins in almost total freak-out, with squawks reminiscent of Miles Davis’s heroin years, then evolves into a pretty little melody over Kovacevic’s finger-picked guitar. But try to figure out “Toys,” a mèlange of squeezes, whirs, whistles, and beeps. In the liner notes we’re told all three of them are playing “lots and lots of toys.” In the hands of these musicians, every instrument becomes a toy, something to experiment with and use to make sure that everyone in earshot has a blast.

You’d think these kindred souls had spent their lives together, holed up even as toddlers banging Legos off Tonka trucks. Actually, the three didn’t come together until October of ’95, when Baraka, a local belly-dancing ensemble, asked Harbeson and Kovacevic to come and accompany them at a practice. LaPerna had just moved to town and had coincidentally called up Baraka’s Josie Conte to see if she needed a drummer.

“I remember that first night at the Swedenborghen Church,” says LaPerna. “We sounded good, and I moved up here to start a band. So we said, ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

“Right off the bat, we were practicing once a week, writing songs,” says Harbeson. “We had the name after a couple of months. We did our first show at the Free Street Taverna in June.”

In fact, much of what appears on Monsieur Monsoon was written at that time, but they got sidetracked a little bit. “Cerberus Shoal lost their keyboard player,” says Harbeson. “And we had mutual admiration for each other’s music,” continues LaPerna. “We saw them at the Free Street; Tim gave them a tape.” And soon the two bands were collaborating on the soundtracks to Tim Folland’s films Elements of Structure and Permanence. Immediately, Tarpigh went into Cerberus Shoal as full partners, writing “Homb” and “Umphalos” for 1998’s Homb recordings.

As quickly as it started, however, Tarpigh took leave of Cerberus by the middle of 1999. “We all left for different reasons,” says LaPerna without elaborating. “We didn’t leave and say, ‘We’re going to be a band again.’ ”

Luckily for lovers of originality and creativity, Tarpigh decided to give it another go, and they already report having enough material for a second album. They’re also collaborating with Amos Libby, a specialist in Indian percussion — who’ll be playing with them at their release party at the Skinny, Thursday the 25th — and exploring new forms of performance with the likes of Buffy Miller and Middle Eastern master Al Gardner.

But they’re not letting that distract them. “Everything else is a side project,” says LaPerna. “Tarpigh is the project.”

Olas: Cada Nueva Ola

The invincible Olas

A surprisingly pop Cada Nueva Ola

Olas will tell you they’re more family than band, but maybe that’s not so uncommon. Actually realizing the nature of the relationship? That’s rarely talked about, the intimacy and intensity of the experience of playing music with someone else. Maybe it’s those bands who accept that reality and explore the inner reaches of each others’ souls that produce the truly transcendent works. Maybe that’s as silly as arguing that “chemistry” helps win baseball games.

Regardless, the band have newly created Cada Nueva Ola, as rollicking as any family dinner table. The latest five songs from Portland’s premiere flamenco outfit offer a wild emotional ride, from life-affirming highs to soul-searching lows, explosively crafted from acoustic guitars, an oud, and the various percussive sounds created with hands on hands and body and shoes on floor. This is music for hair-wrenching and wild abandon, impulsive shouts, whoops, and hollers.

Alongside the new EP, being released on vinyl, the band will also issue videos for the first three songs, directed and edited by Ali Mann, with help from David Meiklejohn and Nick Poulin. Watch them first. They lend a great appreciation for the work Olas do, for the performative construction of the songs, and for just how serious this business is for the band.

Ushered in by an upbeat strum build from Chriss Sutherland and Leif Sherman Curtis on guitars, and the cycling riffage of Tom Kovacevic on the oud, it’s hard not to be impressed by the gravity of Lindsey Bourassa and Megan Keogh’s movements in “Mis Amores Han Desparacido.” Their shoes echo precisely off the floor, invited by a storm of claps from Molly Angie and Anna Giamaiou, who also provide ooo-ooo backing vocals.

Sutherland, too, sounds particularly insistent and impassioned, but the translation of their Spanish lyrics reveals a more contemplative message: “A great wind came through my life/ Carried and scattered my friends around the world / A test perhaps? / I don’t know.”

The sheer athleticism on display by Bourassa in “Baya Song” is impressive in its own right, as she rips 32nd notes with her feet while muscling her way around the floor (perhaps the earlier baseball metaphor was inspired the fact that she has the quick feet of an elite second baseman). Again, though, they belie their seriousness by opening up into a power-pop chorus (in relative terms), repeatedly belting out “soy invincible,” their insistence that they are invincible incredibly compelling.

I wanted to quit my job and write a novel, right away. Listen to this with a buzz on and you might find yourself halfway to airport with nothing but a passport and an extra change of underwear.

The look on Bourassa’s face is incredibly determined. It’s life and death. This is the mantra of people who need to tell themselves they’re invincible just to get by, the oratory of the underdog, those people who have nothing else. The song is the same kind of subversive pop that KGFREEZE worked with “Better Falsetto,” when it comes down to it.

Olas don’t take the easy way out, and they aren’t some kind of sunshine-all-day bullshit artists, but they are fiercely into what they want to do and offer a version of the world that’s hard not to fall in love with. I wish I spoke Spanish so I could better appreciate the biting realism of the “Phar Lap” verse, “Beating dead horses / You know how they say / You won’t want me tomorrow / But you love me today,” in their most Flamenco song on the album.

They’re gorgeous without trying to convince you they’re pretty. On the closing two traditional numbers, “Volare” and “La Llorona,” Olas alternately bring the former into the present, by taking something from Domenico Modugno (think Dean Martin) and making it sound like a present-day stringband tune, and then absolutely crushing your hopes and dreams with the dark and brooding story of the mythical weeping woman, shoes on the floor sounding like echoes of gunfire in the distance. Sutherland nails the desperation of a woman who drowned her children for a man, only to have him reject her.

That’s the kind of bad decision family sometimes forces you into, shattering hearts and tearing at souls. Family, too, is a bedrock on which you can build toward the highest heights and Olas have, again, truly created a monument here.