Bethlehem Press

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Defining Zen music 101 in ‘Jazz Upstairs’ series

Friday, September 14, 2018 by GEORGE VANDOREN Special to The Press in Focus

If I speak of Zen, it won’t be Zen I’m speaking of.

That statement applies equally to Zen Buddhism and to the delightful mix of jazz, pop, classical, and world music produced by Mike Krisukas and Friends.

Krisukas, along with both old and new band-mates, reprises the music of Zen For Primates plus some new music in the “Jazz Upstairs” series, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14, Rodale Community Room, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.

Of the music, Krisukas says, “There really is not a better explanation than it’s very eclectic. All the reviews we ever had, nobody ever said it’s just this one thing. You can’t even pick out the parts. Each song; it’s not pigeon-hole-able. There’s nothing like this.

“All the members have big, long, diverse musical backgrounds. We have classical players, an R&B background, a free-form jazz guy. I play guitar and keep the bass lines moving. I started as a folk player and I played in a funk band. I’m the rhythm guitar player and the bass player.”

Krisukas has written many instrumental pieces that have been performed in the Lehigh Valley, including “Lazy Dogma: A Piece for Trombone, Orchestra and Subconscious Protagonist,” which was performed by the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra. He has also composed for music productions at Muhlenberg College, including “Juliet and Her Romeo: The Sixth Quarto.”

He points out, “Zen started with Mark Golin [violin], myself and Pete [Fluck, sax and harmonica] because of a Jeff Weiss play at Muhlenberg. We met then and shortly after the group started. Somewhere along the line, Dave [Smith, sax and flute] came on. We added the cello a while later.”

Fluck and Smith may be familiar to Valley music-lovers. Fluck had the band PF and the Flyers and also plays with the June Thomas Group. Smith has been with BC and the Blues Crew and the Billy Bauer Band.

In addition to Krisukas, Fluck and Smith, whose time with the band dates back to 1987, other members include Shelagh Maloney, violin; Chase Morrison, cello, and Doug Hawk, vocals. Maloney joined the group in 2002 and can be heard on several Zen For Primates’ CDs.

Krisukas says, “New cellist Chase Morrison played with us quite a while ago as a sub for Jodi [Beder, former cellist]. He played a couple jobs with us and recorded three or four of the songs on the “It’s Polka Time’ CD.

“Doug Hawk is not any comparison to T. Roth [the band’s original singer],” Krisukas says. “Doug has his own style.”

Asked about recent projects, Krisukas says, “I am still writing things. The last major thing was this ballet thing [the San Francisco production of ‘Arcane: A Tale of All Hallows’ Eve’). That got me going in that realm. I can’t stop writing. I write five little melodies a day.

“But you want to get back into the playing end. If you have an audience, you just don’t want to stop. You really feel it. Music has this amazing magical effect. It’s not concrete. In live performances, it can exist only one time.”

Now that’s Zen.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715