It was an executive producer of Nonesuch records who suggested that violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sergio and Odair Assad form a trio. And if his idea of joining the fiery violinist who wails on her instrument with reckless virtuosity to the so-cool-it's-hot guitar-playing Brazilian brothers seemed entirely unlikely to succeed, the recording they made together in 1998 completely justifies him. Indeed, the union of the three is not only the best thing that any of them has ever done, it is also one of the hippest fusions of classical and jazz since Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli.
In a word, the disc burns. The tunes Sergio Assad has written and arranged come from the Gypsy traditions of Spain, Hungary, Macedonia, and Transylvania. Every one of them leaves nothing but cinders in its wake. From the blistering "Andalucia" to the stomping "Somogy's Dream," Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Assad Brothers play together like a postmodernist Grappelli with twin Django Reinhardts.
The really amazing thing is that Salerno-Sonnenberg's burn-baby-burn violin playing fits so well with the Assads' ninety-nine-million-notes-per-second guitar technique. In most classical-jazz crossovers, the classical players sound as stiff as rigor mortis and the jazz players as loose as Jerry Lee Lewis — a combination that can be less appealing than necrophilia. But Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Assads play together with the funky tightness of a ménage Á trois in Ipanema.
On Saturday, June 28, area audiences will have them live at the Power Center as part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. They'll be playing pieces from their Gypsy CD plus red-light-district Argentinean tangos from Astor Piazzolla and a medley of songs from Charlie Chaplin movies. The Piazzolla tunes are specialties of the Assad brothers: they've played and recorded them with Gidon Kremer and Yo-Yo Ma on Grammy-winning discs. The Chaplin tunes reflect Salerno-Sonnenberg's interests: since her Humoresque CD, which took music from the 1947 movie and mixed it with pop songs of the day, Salerno-Sonnenberg has been reaching into the repertoire of movie music and finding some gems.
No matter how well the Power Center's air-conditioning works, it'll be hot in there when Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Assads take the stage.
[Originally published in June, 2003.]
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