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Chicago-Based Cellist Ian Maksin Performs a Compelling Eclectic Solo Show at Le Poisson Rouge

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By Dan Ouellette, Senior Editor, January 3, 2017

Unknown to many people, the legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter began his string career playing the cello, the low-register voice of a standard string quarter. In talking about the four cellos in his nonet ensemble, he said, “I love the sound of cellos, which are sympathetic to the jazz language. Whatever the arrangement, the cellos can play anything. Give the cellos the right notes and chords, and the results are mind-boggling…Cellos have the range of the violin, the warmth of the viola and they have the ability to make their presence heard…”

Even so, except as an instrument most often used as a flavoring within a spotlight performance, the cello as a stand-alone voice is a rarity in popular music. But in that solo context, the cello does command compelling attention. Case in point: Russia-born, Chicago-based cellist and composer Ian Maksin who takes the burnished tone of the cello into a variety of musical settings, ranging from rock (i.e., the tune “Stressed Out” from the band 21 Pilots and the classic Beatles single “Come Together”) to jazz (Miles Davis’s gem “So What”).

With a soulful lyricism, improvisational spirit and expansive stylistic reach, Maksin has discovered a creative vein of fluently exploring the musical world with his unlimited four-string magic. In a solo performance at Chicago’s City Winery, he introduced his tasty interpretation of Bill Withers’ pop beauty “Ain’t No Sunshine” by saying, “I’ve been practicing a new skill on the cello, something I don’t think anyone has ever done before. I’m finding a way to combine several instruments on the cello—drums, bass, [guitar] strumming and playing the lead line.” He said it was a work in progress but then delivered on the bow a brilliant funky rendition of the song—in essence redefining the cello’s potential as an expressive instrument.

While Maksin has shared the stage with such artists as Andrea Bocelli and Sting, he brings to the fore his creative impulse in a solo setting. For his solo show at Le Poisson Rouge on January 4, expect the unexpected as he will deliver from his “works in progress” repertoire that may include unaccompanied cello suites by J.S. Bach; original music infused with traditional flavors from his native Russia, the Balkans and Flamenco Arabe; folk music from Macedonia and Georgia; interpretations of nuevo tango from Argentine bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla; and a diverse range of popular music from Nat King Cole to Jacques Brel. Count on Maksin to enlighten on his cello, which encompasses a wide spectrum of character from mystery to elation.


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