There’s a new Pied Piper in town and his name is Ben Klein. That may be a clichéd term for describing a flute player, but as one audience member proclaimed after last Saturday’s performance, “I seriously think Ben might be the best flautist in the entire universe!”
The Morning Folk music series at The Fieldhouse Café offered a unique duo whose one-half is one-third of this year’s Renaissance Festival’s opening night headlining act, Trillian Green. Flute player extraordinaire Ben Klein, along with multi-instrumental maestro Jake Fleming, performed an improvisational set that left the brunch crowd in absolute awe.
The Saturday morning series usually finds the musicians set up in the corner near the entrance, in order for the music to be seen and heard in both dining areas of The Fieldhouse. For this event, Klein and Fleming set up on the stage in the lounge area like it is for the Thursday night music events. Folks in the other dining area might have heard the music, but those close by got to watch Klein playing like he was possessed by Kokopelli, the iconic flute player of Southwest ancient rock art.
Fleming is a respected jazz musician from Bozeman. He is a founding member of the Jeni Fleming Trio and part of Pinky and the Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute act. At this performance, Fleming created loops that were improvised on the spot, using drum beats, bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitar, and a small two octave keyboard. The slightly jazzy loops provided a base for both he and Klein to improvise over. Fleming would either play tenor sax or acoustic guitar while Klein played flute like few others can.
The music was at times hypnotic, at times mesmerizing, but always amazing. It was fully improvised on the spot. The duo had played together on only one other occasion. As Klein put it before the show, “We have no idea what we’re going to be doing. But we know exactly what we’re going to be doing.”
And they never appeared to be lost anywhere but deep inside the music.
While Fleming is certainly talented and created a wonderful underlay for their live playing, it was Klein who left the audience wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
The one break from the entrancing sounds came after two hours of continual music when they played a lengthy acoustic blues jam. It evoked the late-’60s version of Jethro Tull, which should come as no surprise, as Tull’s flute player, Ian Anderson, inspired Klein to learn the instrument.
Ben Klein moved his family to Bozeman from Seattle where he was a member of the instrumental trio Trillian Green. Cellist Christine Gunn still lives in Seattle, while percussionist Jarrod Kaplan lives in Eugene, Ore. Their days of West Coast tours are behind them, but they still try to reconvene each summer for select festival performances.
Fortunately for Billings, one of Trillian Green’s rare performances will be at the Renaissance Festival this July 26. Be prepared for a musical experience unlike any other, while Klein and Gunn interweave their instruments and Kaplan provides percussion that seems to emanate from his body as much as from his instruments. On a few songs, Klein might play his moon guitar, a converted dulcimer.
The all-instrumental trio draws on the world’s classical and ethnic musical traditions, making music that is uniquely Trillian Green.
To get a sense of what is in store, listen to sound clips from their CD “Metamorphoses,” as well as solo works and side projects by the individual band members at www.omnivine.com/trillian.html. Trillian Green CDs can be purchased there or through Amazon or CDBaby.
Those familiar with the “Green Smarts with the Green Man” public service announcements will already have heard Trillian Green’s “Cross-Eyed Crane Fly,” from their live-in-the-studio album, “Psycho Tantric Juju Jazz.”
Anyone who hears the music – and Ben Klein in particular – will agree with just about everyone I spoke with or overheard last Saturday morning: “That guy is absolutely amazing!”
The previous night, the atrium of the Yellowstone Art Museum was transformed into a micro Renaissance Faire as several of the entertainers from the Montana Renaissance Festival and Highland Games convened for an evening of music and more.
Earthshine, Johnny Walker, Wes Urbaniak, a bagpiper, and a troupe of belly dancers performed in a round robin of sorts for museum visitors. The regular Jam at the Yam became “Ren Jam 2013” for the night, providing a look back at the variety of entertainment offered at last June’s inaugural Ren Faire at ZooMontana and a glimpse into this July’s line up.
Friday night’s free event was open to the public, who were also treated to hors d’oeuvres from the museum’s Raven Café. Wine and beer were available for purchase. The performers each took turns at playing a few numbers before passing on to the next musician or dancer throughout the evening.
Two of the performers were both featured at last summer’s festival: Earthshine and Johnny Walker.
Solo guitarist Walker played original flamenco-jazz music to his own backing tracks. His mastery over the fretboard is as amazing to watch as it is to hear. Those who couldn’t get enough in one evening were able to purchase copies of his 20-track CD to take home.
Earthshine’s Kris Prinzing and her husband Scott (the writer of this article), performed selections from their three CDs on acoustic guitars, bass and mandolin. Dressed in their finest Renaissance garb, they definitely looked the part, even if their Ren-talk, as organizer Ken Haak calls it, was no match for his.
Haak is special events coordinator at the YAM, and has brought his extensive experience with Renaissance festivals to the museum. What began as an idea for evening event last year soon grew into an all-day affair before combining with the Highland Games for a two-day festival last summer. This year’s faire will be even bigger, with an opening night concert on Friday, a Saturday filled with pipes and drums and other entertainment, and a Sunday of continued entertainment. Food, arts, and crafts will be available all weekend as well.
Other performers at Ren Jam included bagpiper Anne Allen, singer songwriter Wes Urbaniak and the Black Gypsy Belly Dance Troupe. All are set to be on hand at this year’s big event.
Allen is one of the few women pipers in Billings and was dressed in her Highland finery.
Urbaniak played his distinct original songs on a guitar of his own design and construction. The belly dancers and drummers were all dressed in colorful gypsy attire that flowed when they took turns dancing to their pulsating drumming.
For more information about the Montana Renaissance Festival, go to MontanaRenFest.com.