Princeton, New Jersey - It’s intense, yet relaxed; the familiarity of the players in the practice room in the Woolworth Music Center, just next door to Princeton’s Frist Campus Center, is a study in easy-going yet professional camaraderie. Striving for perfection in preparation for the weekend’s performances - the Foundry Ensemble led by steel pan and percussive phenom Andy Akiho - went through selections in the repertoire to be showcased later that Friday evening at the Infini-T Café on Hullfish Street on the University Campus, and on Saturday at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
A short time before, a picturesque stroll of several minutes cross campus to the music building itself (from the Princeton Junction where the shuttle had come in) meant sighting several of the institution’s educational halls, distinctive architecture and pleasant green pathways along the way. And though it was the Easter weekend, several students were in, out and about.
As ultra spacious as it had been outside, in contrast the music room was compact for the rehearsal at hand. Sticklers for ‘getting it right’ in the practice session were Akiho, Vicky Chow on piano, Ian Rosenbaum on marimba, Sam Adams on bass, Mariel Roberts on cello, and Kenneth Salters on drums. When Steel Talks (WST) loves to go behind the scenes, and it was an irresistible opportunity to experience the run-throughs in such close proximity as the final touches were put together by each of the six musicians. The back and forth of quips, pointers and observations served in good stead to mold the upcoming show.
After wrapping up the session and packing, Ian and Vicky would be taking most of the instruments across to the Inifini-T Café a few very short blocks away. Every seat is taken, with the owners bringing out any and all available cushions and chairs and squeezing them in between. The few hours to show time are no more; with a standing-room only crew within the small but intimate venue, The Foundry Ensemble opens up with Crown Heights, originally written by Andy for a tutoring session for a set of students in Crown Heights, Brooklyn a few years ago. Incidentally, half of the group—Ian Rosenbaum, Vicky Chow and Sam Adams—now lives on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, a fact Andy shares with the audience.
Among the casual crowd, some immersed in conversation while pleasantly sated with the aromatic teas, delectable spice-tinged delicacies and more available at the Café - are a few music aficionados determinedly paying rapt attention and taking in every selection served up by the group, especially during the solo pieces highlighting the talents and eclectic performances of cellist Mariel Roberts, and Ian Rosenbaum (snare). The intriguing use of digitized electronics complementing unique rhythm signatures by both seasoned players during their respective solos, prodded the listener to both step away from and entertain other than - conventional music modes. There was appreciative applause after each piece; the uniqueness was not lost on those present. The entire set concluded after 11:00 p.m. with a flourish and triumphant delivery of Aka (Red), and well-deserved applause for the accomplished sextet.
The Foundry Ensemble as a musical aggregation with Andy Akiho has played gigs before this one and also recorded together; Vicky, Mariel and Kenneth have taken the stage with Andy as far back as his memorable showcase at the Manhattan School of Music - but it’s the first real opportunity for this exact configuration of musical members coming together. After the Friday showing, the group would travel down to Washington for two shows the following evening, one in the Washington community center, and the later gala performance at the world-renowned Kennedy Center.
“It [Kennedy Center performance] was simply great!” Andy Akiho, clearly still energized, shared with WST after the weekend passed. After a couple of days of powerful engagements, Akiho’s back on campus, and his Foundry band mates have returned to New York City and Brooklyn, respectively - until the clarion call for the next show.
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