Ben Sollee Shines
When a cello sounds like our collective soul
For some people, music is the driving force of the universe. I am not one of them. I am a writer and a visual artist, motivated by all things visual. That said, I went to see Ben Sollee, the singing cellist as he likes to call himself – at Mercyhurst last Thursday evening. This was not a typical concert. The good folks at the Mercyhurst Institute for Art and Culture had the unique opportunity to make it a special evening, and they came through. And so did Sollee.
Sollee likes small intimate, gatherings, and not big, impersonal ones. So the two-hundred or so of us lucky people who braved that evening's snow were sitting on the stage with Sollee and his percussionist, Jordon Ellis, amidst candles flickering in elegant candelabras draped with gauzy fluff and a stage-sized curtain of starry lights on our left. The Mary D'Angelo concert hall sat empty to our right. (See the rest of MIAC schedule).
Sollee's music and performance shone as brightly and warmly as those candles; the intimate setting pulled everyone into his music and anecdotes. His unique blend of folk, jazz and R&B (along with some other genres this non-music reviewer can't name), all wrapped up in with his easy-going storytelling between songs held us captivated. See here for more about Sollee and his projects.
Sometimes the music that emerged from his cello was smooth and liquid, sweetly telling us of love or loss. Other times it was rough, ferocious, and demanding, waking us to the harder edges of life, making us feel the chill air outside.
I liked it mostly because Sollee can make his cello sound any way he likes it to, from deep-in-holler bluegrass to the warm and throbbing bass in a New York City basement jazz club. This was a mesmerizing 100-minute journey through the soundscapes of our country. And maybe, perhaps, our collective soul.
If you want to listen to what you missed you can download Thursday's concert here for a measly five buck. You'll have to imagine the candelabras for yourself.