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Album Review

JEREMY WEGNER

Nevermind the Triangles

Jeremy Wegner loves music, but more importantly (as regards Nevermind the Triangles), Jeremy Wegner loves musical instruments, and not necessarily the ones you would expect. From a very early age, he lived on the musical fringe, absorbing whatever caught his fancy (which, it turns out, lived mostly outside of the realm of the mainstream). When I first met him, in the late seventies, he was reaching into the past, enamored with John Mayall's Blues Breakers and Eric Clapton's short but wild ride with the British blues. Not long after, Ravi Shankar entered via George Harrison and Wegner found himself substituting the Appalachian dulcimer for sitar in his quest for a similar sound. He called it Appalachian Indian music, for lack of a better term, but the raga in his heart was a raga in his ears and the process of getting there became a Wegner formula. When you want the sound, you find a way.

Wegner has had help finding that way. His father, upon a trip to India, found him a sitar. Mike Rubinstein, who plays with Wegner in The Klezmonauts, found him a sarod. Wegner's brother Mark brought him an oud from Egypt and a saz from Turkey (“I don't really play Middle-Eastern music in the traditional sense,” Wegner admitted. “I adjusted the frets on my saz to a 12-tone western scale.”). Even fellow-worker Poh-Kheng fed the habit, bringing first a Pipa and then a “very large” Zheng (“Of course, she no longer tells me when she's going to China,” he says). While not quite an obsession, this quest for instruments falls just short and had the housing market not just recently crashed, Wegner might have been looking for a, shall we say, roomier abode in which to house his acquisitions?

But about the music... Wegner can play, no doubt about it, and he brings his usual ton of influences to prove it. This album could well have been a jumbled mess but for his focus on individual pieces and not on the album as a whole. The longer pieces are basically set up in movements, much as the Celtic medleys in Ireland and Scotland, each movement a segment in itself. The styles? A little Middle-Eastern, a touch of gypsy, a bit of klezmer, a hint of jazz and classical--- listen closely and you can pick them out--- and Celtic. And Roots, lest I forget. At certain points, he turns on a dime from whatever bent he's on to go on a hoedown or mountain music jag--- at least, his version of those. One could get dizzy with the sudden changes, but he pulls it off and trust me, it is not at all an easy thing to do.

The album is not all intensely ethnic. He breaks it up with some intuitive movements reminiscent of the acoustic finger-picking movement of the late 70s and early 80s, when artists like Will Ackerman, Dan Hedges and Alex de Grassi were wowing people up and down the West Coast. Smooth, thematic and pleasant, Germ's Awakening, Nevermind the Triangles, Stepladder, and Max's Return have that soft, flowing presence used in so many independent films and documentaries these days.

Wegner was smart enough to call in favors on this project as well. He assembles the best of the Northwest, it seems, and the musicians rise to the task. Too many to mention here, let us just say that the Willamette Valley is hardly a vast wasteland when it comes to musical acumen. A pat on the back to Billy Barnett as well for his restraint in the studio. On this, he proves that being a recording engineer is at times knowing when to not twist the knobs.

If the Sugar Beets had been the only warning shot, Nevermind the Triangles might have been a shock to the system, but Wegner's work with the aforementioned Klezmonauts and Bindaas, a duo formed with tabla player Ankush Vimawala, had prepared me. The expanse of his music surprises me a little, but after this, I expect him to surprise me a lot. There is a universe of musical styles out there. I expect that Jeremy Wegner will be planting his flag on as many as he can, as they are uncovered. Following his music from here on out will obviously be about more than just the music. It will be about the adventure.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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