Enslaved by the celloby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The Minneapolis band Jelloslave, with two fiery cellists at its core, takes the cello where quartets and concertos don't usually go. Jelloslave will unveil its new CD, "Purple Orange," this Friday and Saturday night at Open Eye Figure Theater in Minneapolis.
Forget trying to put Jelloslave's music into some neat little category. In fact, experimental jazz saxophonist George Cartwright of Roseville, won't even take a stab at it.
"The problem in trying to describe something that you think is really special, and touches you in a way that you can't explain, is that you can't explain it," he said. "That's what I like. I can't talk about it but it's fantastic cause I can feel it."
What Jelloslave members feel when they play is freedom, freedom to take an unusual configuration of drums, tabla and two cellos and just explore.
"We're really open to trying anything, as long as we can make it work."
Jelloslave's Jacqueline Ultan, with Michelle Kinney, are eager to push their cellos into new musical realms. Kinney says with the instrument's wide spectrum of pitches and warm, mellow sound, there are plenty of ways to attack the music.
"One of us can be singing, the other one can be growling and vice versa," she said. "We can play bass lines for each other, we can support each other to solo, and it sort becomes bigger than the two of us I think, because of the way the cello functions and its range."
"The range is so close to the human voice, that it becomes very conversational," Jaqueline Ultan said. "And I think just because of who we are, our musical references just our spirit -- all of that -- we really communicate."
The shared influences Ultan talks about make up a wide swath of musical styles, many of which you can hear scattered throughout the new CD. You've got Bach and contemporary new music on one end, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix on the other, with Astor Piazzolla, avant jazz and electronic music in between.
"It all ends up in the jello mode," Jacqueline Ultan said.
Improvisation is at the heart of Jelloslave's music, especially its original pieces. On "Purple Orange" the band also demonstrates that even if you don't have a singer, the cello is more than a capable substitute.
"One of the tunes on our new record is "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, and we modeled it after the Jeff Buckley version," Jacqueline Ultan said.
"You know and the words to that song are beautiful and important, but the melody is so incredible," Ultan said. "And so, we felt that like we could say something without the words."
Ultan and Michelle Kinney are in high demand as collaborators. Writer and performer Kevin Kling says both have an uncanny ability to crawl into the skin of an actor or sense the rhythms of a monologue when they're providing accompaniment. To Kling, Jelloslave pieces feel like unfolding wordless stories that trigger his imagination.
"And so when I hear Michelle and Jacqueline, the things that I conjure are just fantastic and I just... it makes me want to work them all the more," he said.
The cello is no longer an anomaly in pop or rock. Ultan jokes that in some indie circles, the cello is the new guitar. The only thing that bothers her is the limited way they're being used.
"People who barely know how to play can play in a pop band and, you know, do the cello thing, and it seems really cool," she said. "But no, cello doesn't have to function in that place. Cello can be the lead instrument."
Ultan says there's so much a cello can say, and that's what Jelloslave is out to prove.
- Morning Edition, 03/30/2010, 8:25 a.m.