New Minnesota music roundup: Abstract tango from the Charles Gorczynski Tango Quartet

Plus: The punchy Americana of Humbird and wild improvisation from three local music vets

a man with glasses sits at a table
Charles Gorczynski of the Charles Gorczynski Tango Quartet.
Courtesy of Anastasia Kuba

Updated: 11:25 p.m. April 23 | Posted 12:44 p.m. April 19

New Minnesota music roundup is a bimonthly collection of new releases by Minnesota musicians or musicians with strong Minnesota connections. We focus on music that might otherwise fly beneath the radar, including — but not limited to — folk, blues, country, experimental and jazz.

Know any new Minnesota music that you want to share? Let us know here.

album cover shows four people playing instruments
"The Conservatory" by Charles Gorczynski Tango Quartet.
Courtesy photo

‘The Conservatory,’ Charles Gorczynski Tango Quartet

Released Oct. 29, 2023

Bandoneonist and composer Charles Gorczynski, along with his quartet, work in contemporary forms of tango — neuvo tango, like the exquisite and sometimes oblique music of Astor Piazzolla, but also avant-garde styles of composition that recall abstract European chamber music from the early part of the last century.

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Thanks to Gorczynski’s fluid bandoneon (a relative of the concertina favored in Argentina), his compositions here are always recognizable as tango, and he has an appropriately sensuous and sinuous taste for memorable melodic lines. The rest of his quartet sometimes sounds like they are succumbing to an absinthe-induced mania, with the piano pounding dense, nervous chords and the strings sailing around the melody, sometimes wailing, sometimes plunking and sometimes literally just scratching the strings.

The Addams Family television show and films had them dancing tangos; this is the music they would have selected.

album cover with a woman that reads humbird right on
"Right On" by Humbird.
Courtesy photo

‘Right On,’ Humbird

Released April 12, 2024

Singer and composer Siri Undlin, as Humbird, is a prolific creator of off-center folk songs, which in the past have included such surprising elements as Meredith Monk-style chanting, tuneless whistling and manipulated industrial noises, all in service of a rich, willowy voice and solid, confessional songwriting.

She also has a taste for the sorts of rattling drum kit and chunky Les Paul guitar sounds of Americana, and these come to the forefront on “Right On.” The results highlight her considerable strengths as a songwriter, pairing memorable lyrics (“I’m not crying but I wish I could / Heart snapped off like plywood” she sings on the title song) with lovely, arching melodies.

Undlin accompanies herself on guitar, which often brings a hint of menace to her songs: “Cornfields and Roadkill” recalls the relentless riff of The Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” but threatening. Likewise, her songs sometimes spontaneously detonate into yawping clangorousness that adds a keen edge to the frequent prettiness of the songs. This is music intended to startle, not please or mollify.

cover that reads experimental music at resource
"Experimental Music at RESOURCE" by George Cartwright, JT Bates and Noah Ophoven-Baldwin.
Courtesy photo

‘Experimental Music at RESOURCE,’ George Cartwright, JT Bates and Noah Ophoven-Baldwin

Released April 9, 2024

“Experimental Music at RESOURCE” is how this collection of music is named on its cover, but on its Bandcamp page, the album is titled “George Cartwright, JT Bates, Noah OB live at Resource (2​.​23​.​23),” which I like even more. Once in a while, dedicated thrift shoppers would find old cassette tapes with titles like this on the cover. Bringing the cassettes home, they would be delighted or aghast to hear something really out there: children pretending to be radio announcers, an old recording of family members recalling their childhood home, or music so unexpected and atonal as to be astonishing.

This is the latter. The musicians, George Cartwright, JT Bates and Noah Ophoven-Baldwin are well-established and well-regarded (Bates even played on a Taylor Swift album). This collection is an improvised set organized by Ophoven-Baldwin and composer Luke Martin at RESOURCE, a little space next to the Open Eye theater in Minneapolis. The album comprises three improvisations, ranging from about seven to 29 minutes, and these are recordings that are largely free of such niceties as melody, rhythm, structure or, for that matter, anything recognizable in traditional composition.

Instead, there is a clattering of percussion, a very deep thrum and horn blasts. Sometimes these seem dimly aware of each other, sometimes they seem to have a conversation, like three alien animals screaming at each other in a stony field on some wasted planet. Once in a while, there will be the barest hint of a song, as though one of the beasts started humming and then thought better of it.

These are rough noises, and, because they are made by skilled musicians, there is great inventiveness and variety in them. It’s loud, chaotic and discordant, but, for the adventurous, a genuine journey.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.