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Contratopia | Hands Four

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United States - Minnesota

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Folk: Contra Dance Folk: Jazzy folk Moods: Instrumental
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Hands Four

by Contratopia

Jigs, Reels and Waltzes for dancing and listening.
Genre: Folk: Contra Dance
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Booth Shot Lincoln/It Ain't the Heat It's the Humidity
2:33 $0.99
2. Reel St. Joseph/Star of Munster/Two Legged Stool
6:04 $0.99
3. Ms. P's Waltz
4:05 $0.99
4. Sweet Music/Why Ted Flies/3-Legged Dawg/Ron Wallace's Fancy/Book
5:41 $0.99
5. South of France
3:20 $0.99
6. Sandy River Belles/Little Liza Jane
2:55 $0.99
7. Revelry Reel/French Sneakers/Maggie in the Rain
5:04 $0.99
8. The National Road
2:45 $0.99
9. Hogwart's Express/O'Keefe's Slide/Steady On
5:01 $0.99
10. Oak Woods Song
3:08 $0.99
11. Palisades/Christmas Past/Fairbanks
4:45 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
For the latest information from Contratopia check out the new (October 2006) blog, Contratopia 2.0, at http://contratopia.blogspot.com

Contratopia is a contra dance band composed of two musicians from Minnesota and two from northeast Iowa. Erik Sessions (fiddle), Patrice Pakiz (piano, oboe, percussion), Pat O'Loughlin (english concertina and banjo) and John Goodin (mandolin and guitar) began playing together in late 1999 and decided that the rewards of working together outweighed the challenges of geographical separation. Many groups of dancers have enjoyed Contratopia's unique musical approach at events from Ames, Iowa to Asheville, North Carolina and the band anticipates continuing to share their enthusiasm for jigs, reels and waltzes with dancers for a long time to come.

The group has played frequently for dances in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and has completed three tours of the mid-Atlantic region playing in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Glen Echo and Frederick, MD and Richmond and Bluemont, Virginia. The band has also enjoyed a successful short tour of North Carolina dance hotspots. Contratopia has been the featured band at dance weekends in Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, Iowa and North Carolina and has played for workshops in Scandinavian dance, English Country Dance and general couples dancing. In addition to live performance the band has recorded two CDs: Hands Four, a collection of mostly original reels, jigs and waltzes, and Ballroom Echoes, a collection of mostly original waltzes. Occasionally the band ventures into the hinterlands of Winneshiek County, Iowa to play concerts and dances in Decorah, where Erik and John make their homes.

Erik Sessions has taken his years of classical training and combined it with a wide variety of musical interests and experiences to create a powerful fiddling style. He honed his skills as a founding member of the popular Twin Cities band Pig's Eye Landing at countless dances and contributed to several of their recordings. Erik is well known as a composer of exciting tunes and his "It Ain't the Heat, It's the Humidity" (the first track on Hands Four) is featured in the popular tunebook The Portland Collection.

Patrice Pakiz is a rhythmically compelling pianist who keeps dancers on their toes and her oboe playing and percussion accents help keep the Contratopia sound interesting. She is also a member of Macha Tri, with Laura MacKenzie and Mag McDermott, and is prominently featured on their CD, The Bear Dance. Patrice's jazz background and her unerring harmonic sense are fundamental to Contratopia's improvisatory approach.

Pat O'Loughlin has deep roots in the Twin Cities dance community as a player, a caller and an organizer. His english concertina, hammer dulcimer and banjo playing have been an important part of many groups over the years, in particular, the long-running bands Thistledown and Colerain. He is also nationally known as a builder of high quality harps. In Contratopia Pat serves as both an instigator and an anchor, alternately encouraging the group to stretch out and to behave itself. He is particularly interested in encouraging the band to play new tunes.

John Goodin has played guitar and mandolin in a variety of styles for a Long Time and holds the distinction of being the oldest Contratopian. As a composer he has written several pieces for mandolin orchestra that have been performed around the world and recorded in Germany, Greece and the United States. He has also published a collection of fiddle tunes, Blueberries to Boston, available from Plucked String, Inc. Many of the tunes on Hands Four are by Goodin and were written expressly for the band. Like all the group members John has a strong interest in improvisation and a belief that being a little unpredictable makes the dance more fun.



to write a review

Jim Skurdal

Keeping it unpredictable
It takes just one pleasurable listen to discover that the musicians of Contratopia are masters of many instruments and many musical styles. The opening medley of “Booth Shot Lincoln” and “It Ain’t the Heat, It’s the Humidity” moves quickly from a finely balanced blend of old-timey banjo and mandolin to the pulsing sound of Sessions’ fiddle, with its shuffling syncopation and precise and lightning-fast execution of ornamental runs. Then in the following set of reels the group not only melds dance tunes old and new, but appears to set its sights on redefining the genre. Sprightly renditions of “Reel St. Joseph” and “Star of Munster”, with their shifting combinations of instruments and inventive harmony lines, soon give way to a jazzier interpretation, which in turn paves the way for a rockin’ and reelin’ version of an original Goodin composition called “Two-Legged Stool”.

But a spirited set of jigs, five of them, in fact, are testimony of this band’s ability to play it straight and accomplish the task to great effect. The instruments double, even triple up on the lively melodies, which are firmly anchored in Pakiz’ lilting Irish piano rhythms. Listen carefully midway as fiddle and mandolin are joined by the graceful sound of the oboe, also played by Pakiz, in a stream of cascading notes and delayed harmony lines -- and contemplate the last time you heard a jig on the oboe.

They play it straight too on “Sandy River Belles” and “Little Liza Jane”, hard-driving hoedowns on old-time fiddle and banjo, then stretch out again on renditions of original material, jazzing up jigs and reels such as “Maggie in the Rain”, “Palisades”, and “Fairbanks”, the CD’s concluding number.

Erik Sessions and John Goodin are not only fine instrumentalists, but successful composers as well. Sessions’ “It Ain’t the Heat, It’s the Humidity” was selected for the popular contra dance tune book, The Portland Collection. Another of his compositions heard on this recording, “Ms P’s Waltz”, is both an invitation to the dance and pure listening pleasure. Opening with violin and piano, it evolves into a gently flowing tonal tapestry with sweeping reach. “Oak Woods Song”, an equally sublime Sessions composition, is closer to an air than a dance tune. Here solo violin, concertina, and octave mandolin fuse with an intricate piano accompaniment to evoke a quiet walk at the end of the day. Ken Burns, pay heed! This delicately wrought piece is worthy of inclusion on a future sound track.

Hands Four also showcases works – an even dozen to be exact -- by John Goodin, whose compositions for mandolin orchestra have been performed around the world, and recorded in Germany, Greece, and the United States. The tranquil tempo of “The National Road” is reminiscent of an age when movement on the great thoroughfares of our land proceeded at a more leisurely pace. The beautiful meandering melody is introduced by O’Loughlin on the concertina and elaborated by Pakiz in the only extended piano solo that she offers on this recording.

In Goodin’s “South of France”, a miniature tone poem in three parts, the plaintive lyricism of the melody flows seamlessly from violin to concertina to oboe, with violin and oboe weaving in harmony and counterpoint, and Goodin himself providing the crisp guitar accompaniment. The arrangement is exquisite, the performance stunning, and listeners everywhere are pardoned for remarking in raised voices: “It doesn’t get any better than this!” And indeed it doesn’t.

That Contratopia has emerged from the studio with a truly exciting debut recording lies as much in the group’s willingness to experiment and explore as in its technical ability and musical savvy. Treat yourself today to a copy of this CD, and send one to a friend. And don’t forget to check the dance schedule at the website, and take hands four the next time Contratopia is in town.

Website: http://www.contratopia.com