Fishtank Ensemble
The Fishtank Ensemble will give an all-ages show at 8 p.m. Friday at the Coconino Center for the Arts. (Courtesy photo)

This is not their first visit to Flagstaff.

When the Los Angeles-based group Fishtank Ensemble played here in summer 2009, as a part of the Arboretum Summer Concert Series, they were rained out in the monsoon and ended up squeezed indoors with hardy concertgoers at The Arb.

In April 2010, they returned for a sold-out show at the Coconino Center for the Arts, which incited dancing in the small spaces of the stage not taken up by equipment.

The group is making a return engagement, its third in three years, for a concert Friday evening at the Coconino Center for the Arts.

The ensemble will indubitably mesmerize the audience again by marrying authentic European musical tones with avant-garde show-stoppers like playing a saw and juggling their instruments on stage.

"They are like no other band you've seen live," said John Tannous, executive director of the center and Flagstaff Cultural Partners. "Their passion is infectious. Given that Ursula, their lead singer, was once an opera singer -- and that two of their band members were literally gypsies -- and that they have probably the best and most intense slap bass player in the world -- they are simply a band you have to experience to fully appreciate."


The LA Weekly has called this celebrated musical act, "cross pollinated gypsy music ... one of the most thrilling young acts on the planet."

Formed in 2005 and playing everywhere from the hippest Los Angeles clubs to festivals and cultural centers, the band includes two explosive violins, the world's best Serbian slap-bass player, musical saw, flamenco and gypsy jazz guitar, trombone, opera, jazz and gypsy vocals, accordion and one little banjolele.

The banjolele, sometimes called banjo ukulele or banjo uke, is a four-stringed musical instrument with a small banjo-type body and a fretted ukulele neck. The instrument was popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and combines the scale, tuning and playing style of a ukulele with the construction and distinctive tone of a banjo.


Making a much-anticipated return to the Northland are the four musicians in the group.

Fabrice Martinez, violin and violintromba, is a gifted fiddler who travels Europe in a mule-drawn caravan, collecting and playing folk music with the group Croque Mule.

Ursula Knudson, saw, voice and violin, also travels with the Croque Mule caravan and is classically trained in voice and violin.

Douglas "douje" Smolens, guitar, is an accomplished flamenco guitarist, producer and composer. Performing as "El Douje," his album "Worlds Collide" is a bold mixture of traditional and modern styles.

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Djordje Stijepovic, bass, was a member of leading world music bands in Serbia and finished classical music conservatory in jazz arrangement and bass. He performs solo and also plays with other bluegrass, Cajun, jazz and blues bands.


Fishtank's debut album, "Super Raoule," was released in 2005 and is a blend of up-tempo traditional and original music, with a variety of influences, from Romanian, Roma (Gypsy), klezmer, flamenco to Japanese.

All the elements are blended with a contemporary twist.

Another album, "Samurai Over Serbia," which was released in 2007, is another prime example of how Fishtank is a multi-cultural and rocking' good time.

Hitting the road in true gypsy fashion, Fishtank members have journeyed both U.S. coasts and traveled to Colorado, New Mexico, the Midwest and throughout Arizona. The group has joined efforts with other high-energy acts, such as The Squirrel Nut Zippers, Juliette Lewis, Jason Webley, Perry Farrell, Los Lobos and Donovan Leitch.

With perfect spring weather and plenty of advance notice to fans, the Friday concert promises to be as exciting as their previous performances have been, even the rained-out show.

"They played such a great show, and worked within their confined quarters without missing a beat," Tannous said. "After that, people begged us to bring them back to Flagstaff. So, here they are again, now for a third time."

Betsey Bruner can be reached at bbruner@azdailysun.com or 556-2255.


WHAT: Fishtank Ensemble in an all-ages concert

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Coconino Center for the Arts, 2300 N. Fort Valley Road

TICKETS: $12/advance, $15/day of show. Purchase online at www.culturalpartners.org

INFO: Call the center at 779-2300

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