I never imagined that I would enjoy the cello as much as I do now because I only heard it as part of a classical music orchestra. Meeting young musicians such as Mike Block has changed my perception of that instrument so I was happy to attend what was billed as his album release show at Club Passim recently.
Although it ended up not being a release show because his three (!) new albums are not quite ready, he played tunes from all three projects. One album is folk, one ‘twisted classical’ (my expression, not his – the tunes have classical roots but with a twist), and one pop-ish.
Mike has a pedigree that few young musicians today have. He studied with the incredible cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whom he counts as not only a mentor but also a friend. Mr. Ma performed at Mike’s wedding to Hanneke Cassel (a fabulous fiddle player); how many people can say that? He has a patent to his name for the Block Strap, something he invented so a cellist can easily stand while playing the instrument.
He is an engaging performer. He chats with the audience almost as if we are all long-time friends sitting in his living room enjoying a cocktail/beer/glass of wine with him.
We were there, however, to hear Mike play and that he did over two sets with no opener. Playing songs from all three upcoming releases, Mike’s virtuosity as well as his versatility were clearly on display. I love the cello’s ‘voice’; anyone who cannot understand how this instrument can stand on its own needs to see Mike perform.
During a few numbers of the second set, Barry Rothman, a turntablist (I learned a new word) played turntables with Mike. This art has to be seen to be appreciated; you might think “oh, he’s only a DJ” but you would be wrong. A turntablist alters the music and coordinates it with the live music being played. I thought Barry added a lot to those numbers on which they collaborated.
Mike is also part of the Silk Road Ensemble, so you can sometimes catch him with that fine group; if you are as lucky as I was recently, Mr. Ma will also perform at your show and you will see dueling cellos! He started a cello camp as well. Mike has many ‘irons in the fire’ so you have multiple opportunities to see him – which you should do!