Posted by bigmike on Monday, February 11, 2019
Milwaukee-based banjoist Michael Rossetto takes a global approach to the instrument with a collection of visceral instrumentals.
As the son of Italian immigrants living in the Midwest, it is surprising that a banjo found its way into the hands of Michael Rossetto. Raised in a home where NPR and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood were a part of daily life, Rossetto grew up with an always present soundtrack ranging from symphonic masterworks to jazz fusion. He credits the PBS programming that his parents watch daily for his discovery of the banjo – courtesy of Austin City Limits; in particular the 1992 performance of Bela Fleck’s cosmic jazz group, the Flecktones. “As an avid sci-fi fanatic, I began recording episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation when it debuted in 1987", Rossetto recalls, "and in between each episode on those VHS tapes were musical performances from PBS specials. The whole Flecktone outer space jazz vibe fit in rather well with Star Trek.”
It was the way notes cascaded out of the banjo that was strikingly different than guitar and what ultimately drove Rossetto to begin learning the banjo. “I was a young guitar player that hit my first plateau on the instrument. Upon seeing Bela pull out a cello-like melancholy and intensity out of the banjo and then shiftgears to a major key Bluegrass shred using the same five strings, I was inspired and obsessed.”
When Rossetto relocated from Milwaukee to Minneapolis he assembled an instrumental quartet to write and perform music that used acoustic instruments to convey both sadness and contentment simultaneously. The Spaghetti Western String Co. went on to record four records, receive two Minnesota Music Awards (2005, 2006) and write two silent film scores for Grass(1925) and the children’s classic, The Red Balloon (1956).
After spending the last several years recording and touring as a sideman for singer- songwriters like The Pines, Pieta Brown, Frankie Lee, Erik Koskinen and Buffalo Gospel, Rossetto returned to his instrumental core and began work on Intermodal Blues in 2015 with Minneapolis drummer and producer, JT Bates (Fat Kid Wednesdays, Phil Cook, Big Red Machine).
Bates, who had previously recorded with Rossetto on the 2008 Spaghetti Western String Co. release, Lull & Clatter, knew of his penchant for casting a wide net in terms of instruments and timbres. As producer, Bates purposefully limited Rossetto’s palette and brought in Chris Bates on upright bass, himself on drums and Jim Anton on the Tibetan doshpuluur. The recording sessions for Intermodal Blues were kept short – three to four hour sessions intent on capturing the interplay between the quartet.
The first compositions to be recorded were title track, "Intermodal Blues", and the two-part suite of "Down from Moncenisio" and "Ferry to Tunis". These pieces reference the banjo’s West African roots and feature collective improvisation amongst the ensemble. "Ferry to Tunis" is a first take, as well as the first time the ensemble had played the piece. That looseness and spontaneity is countered with "Three on the Five", a through composed work that accentuates the warmer and darker sounds of the banjo. While many of the compositions are rooted in capturing the natural acoustic sound of each instrument, Rossetto can’t help but look to the sky and bring down a bit of the cosmos in his songs. The track, "Infrica", is that line between Earth and space. “I love pairing a pure acoustic sound with something artificially created using pedals. That guitar and Doshpuluur on 'Infrica' sound like a conversation between two old friends on a porch. When the sustained swells enter you realize that the porch is floating through deep space.”
“Intermodal Blues became this personal soundtrack to my movement throughout the Midwest and around the world,” says Rossetto. While the title comes from the Intermodal Train Station in Milwaukee, the music was written and recorded in Minneapolis. “Moving back to my childhood home after 19 years in Minneapolis was extraordinarily hard, but a visit to my mother and father’s home villages in Italy during the transition, gave me all the sense of home that I needed. If they could cross an ocean with nothing but their clothes and start again...I’ll be fine. I’ve been fortunate to always have music, my banjo and compassionate musicians around me to create with.”
About Michael Rossetto
Michael Rossetto is a banjoist/guitarist/composer that resides in the Midwest. He founded the Minneapolis instrumental quartet Spaghetti Western String Co. in 2003 and was the recipient of two Minnesota Music Awards in 2005 and 2006. He often records and performs with Midwestern artists: The Pines, Pieta Brown, Frankie Lee, Erik Koskinen and Buffalo Gospel. His music is featured in the 2010 documentary, Winnebago Man.
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