Minnesota sur Seine: Paris on the Mississippi

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The name Minnesota sur Seine is a clever play on words meaning “Minnesota on the scene,” hinting at the great Seine River running through Paris. The Minnesota sur Seine Festival, entering its fourth year, is gaining a reputation as a place to experience riveting collisions of musical styles in some of the Twin Cities’ coolest venues.

The Minnesota sur Seine Festival runs from May 15-25 at various venues throughout the Twin Cities. For a complete schedule, see the box at the end of this article. For more information, see surseine.org.


The festival was launched as a conduit between musicians in France and Minnesota. It was envisioned as a means for regional musicians to collaborate with international artists. The event has grown in scope from its jazz origins to be a broad showcase of musical styles from around the world—including hip-hop, Celtic, and folk.

Sara Remke, one of the owners of the Black Dog Café in St. Paul, is a co-founder of the festival. She says that the event was meant to create a “highway” between France and Minnesota. “It started with French and English musicians, but now includes groups from everywhere…For example, this year we have an Ethiopian band at the Fine Line. The festival allows people to see all types of musicians in a different context.”

According to Remke, the event is about connections and relationships—linking local musicians with international ones. Composers and musicians work together to present something entirely new. “It allows them to interact in a different way,” says Remke.

Zeitgeist is a new-music chamber ensemble based in St. Paul, consisting of two percussionists, a pianist, and woodwinds. During the sur Seine Festival, Zeitgest will be performing a piece composed by renowned French drummer Pablo Cueco—a collaborator they’ve never met in person. (Cueco and the Zeitgeist members communicate with one another primarily over the Internet.) Cueco is best known for adapting the zarb, an Iranian wooden drum, for a diverse range of musical genres.

Heather Barringer is the managing director of Zeitgeist. “Last year,” says Barringer, “Sara [Remke] approached us and asked it we’d be interested in a composer writing a piece for us. We’re always interested in new works and diversity in aesthetics.”

Historically, performers have been booked based on word of mouth—but with the event growing so rapidly, it’s been a feat for organizers to assess the true caliber of all the musicians from around the globe who are now interested in participating. It is also a challenge to promote these groups to a public that has never heard of them. “Musicians who might be really well known in another country may not be known here,” observes Remke. “Our goal is to bring back artists who have participated before, but also bring in new artists.”

Zeitgeist has allowed the use of its space, “Studio Z,” in the past, and Barringer is enthusiastic about participating in the 2008 sur Seine. “This is a very adventurous festival. It features a side of jazz that doesn’t get heard much in this community, and it’s a tremendous opportunity for musicians and the public.” She also believes that the festival helps to raise the visibility of the artistic community in St. Paul. “This can only be a good thing!”

Thursday, May 15
• Jazz bass player Anthony Cox from Minnesota and French guitarist Raymond Boni perform at the Black Dog Café, 308 Prince St., St. Paul (8:00 p.m., $8)

Friday, May 16
• An Evening with Federico Garcia Lorca at Central Presbyterian Church, 500 Cedar St., St. Paul. A suite of arrangements by pianist Tony Hymas of songs collected or written by Lorca, with a quartet including Philly guitarist Jef Lee Johnson and the two Twin Cities cellists of JelloSlave: Michelle Kinney and Jacqueline Ultan; Poemas de Federico Garcia Lorca by Spanish vocalist Violeta Ferrer, accompanied by French guitarist Raymond Boni; flamenco performed by vocalist Gabriel Gonzalez, accompanied by international guitarist Miguel Linares (8:00 p.m., $12)

Saturday, May 17
• A Night on Top of the Pops at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, 50 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. “Ethno-cyberpunk diva” Viv Corringham performs with bouzouki (a stringed Greek instrument similar to a mandolin) player and guitarist Peter Cusack, saxophonist Chris Thomson, double bass player Chris Bates, and zarb percussionist Pablo Cueco; Minnesota’s Mystery Palace, Ryan Olcott, James Buckley and Joey Van Phillips partner with French guitarist Noël Akchoté (8:00 p.m., $12)

Sunday, May 18
• Breakfast with Kylie at the Black Dog Café, 308 Prince St., St. Paul. Noël Akchoté plays Kylie Minogue (11:00 a.m., free)
• L’Aprés-Midi Des Faunes at the Artists Quarter, Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul. Swedish pianist Christofer Bjurström partners with French clarinetist Christophe Rocher on the piano; French keyboardist Benoît Delbecq and drummer David King (3:00 p.m., $12)
• A Night of New and Old World Roots at the Cedar Cultural Center, 416 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis. Acoustic duo Roma di Luna with French Celtic group the Jacky Molard Quartet (7:30 p.m., $17 advance, $23 at the door)

Monday, May 19
• Festival of the Night (Fest Noz) at the Black Dog Café, 308 Prince St., St. Paul. (8:00 p.m.)

Tuesday, May 20
• An Evening in Paris (early 20th century), Creation Audio, 2543 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis Steve Wiese hosts pianist Tony Hymas as he plays Claude Debussy’s Etudes and Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies (7:00 p.m., $9)

Wednesday, May 21
• Taut Hides and Tuned Strings at the Artists Quarter, Hamm Building, 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul Percussionist Pablo Cueco plays a solo show on the zarb; Tony Hymas on keyboards, Bruno Chevillon on bass and JT Bates on drums (8:00 p.m., $12)

Thursday, May 22
• Fiery Words and Fierce Music at the the Triple Rock Social Club, 629 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis Five-piece Minnesota group Post Nomadic Syndrome (a.k.a. PosNoSys) with Oskar Ly on vocals, Shawn Mouacheupao on drums, Tieng Hang on bass, emcee Tou SaiKo Lee and Chuefeng Xiong on guitar; leading French underground rap group La Rumeur and music group Ursus Minor (8:00 p.m., $12 advance, $15 at the door)

Friday, May 23
• Jazz at the Gallery, Minnesota Museum of American Art, 50 W. Kellogg Blvd.,
St. Paul. Dominique Pifarély Trio performs with alto saxophonist Tim Berne; CD release party for Next with François Corneloup on saxophones, Dominique Pifarély on violin, Dean Magraw on guitar, Chico Huff on bass and JT Bates on drums (8:00 p.m., $22)

Saturday, May 24
• Documentary film Abysssinie Swing at the Minneapolis Central Library Auditorium, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. With post-film discussion with producer Francis Falceto (11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m., free)
• Lowertown Music Crawl—Progressive music at progressive gigs at various Lowertown locations, St. Paul; specific venues TBA. Cellist Didier Petit performs with violinist Gary Schulte; alto saxophonist Tim Berne performs with bassist Bruno Chevillon; cellist Didier Petit performs with MC Carnage; NBA—Nathan Hanson on saxophones, Brian Roessler on bass, and Alden Ikeda on drums perform with cellist Didier Petit (1:00-6:00 p.m.; see all four for $10)
• A Night in Ethiopia at the Fine Line Music Café, 318 First Ave., Minneapolis Ethiopian bassist Yohannes Tona performs with Minneapolis drummer Michael Bland and well-known Philadelphia guitarist Jef Lee Johnson; 2007 BBC World Music Award winner Mahmoud Ahmed on vocals with his ensemble (Moges Habte and Tekle Gebremedhin on sax, Araya Wolde Michael on keyboards, Tamre W. Agede on guitar, Yenesew Tefera on bass, and Mikias Abebayehu on drums) (8:00 p.m., $25 advance, $30 at the door)

Sunday, May 25
• Lowertown Music Crawl—Progressive music at progressive gigs at various Lowertown locations, St. Paul, specific venues TBA Cellist Didier Petit performs with percussionist and reed player Milo Fine; Zeitgeist Ensemble (Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd on percussion, Pat O’Keefe on woodwinds, and Shannon Wettstein on piano) performs an original Pablo Cueco composition, Le soleil se couche à l’ouest; Minnesota soprano saxophone player and flutist Douglas Ewart performs with cellist Didier Petit; Minneapolis jazz trumpeter Kelly Rossum performs with French bass clarinetist Denis Colin (1:00-6:00 p.m., see all four for $10)

Betsy Mowry works as an arts administrator with COMPAS and the Arts & Culture Partnership of St. Paul.