Cinder Conk brings Balkan sensibility to Maine

Matt Schreiber and Xar Adelberg of the Balkan folk duo Cinder Conk will play Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, in Rockland.
Photo courtesy of Cinder Conk
Matt Schreiber and Xar Adelberg of the Balkan folk duo Cinder Conk will play Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, in Rockland.
Posted Feb. 17, 2011, at 7:35 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 20, 2011, at 11:09 a.m.

I’m here to make a case for the accordion as one of the coolest instruments around.

You laugh, but hear me out. It’s a piano, an organ and a percussive instrument all in one, and it has been widely played in many different folk traditions for 200 years, from polka to zydeco to klezmer. You hear it in the music of popular indie bands such as Arcade Fire and The Decemberists, and it is the preferred instrument of one certified genius, “Weird Al” Yankovic. Give the accordion some love, people.

Moreover, it’s the instrument of choice for Matt Schreiber, who is one half of the midcoast Balkan folk duo Cinder Conk. Those who aren’t swayed by the accordion’s dulcet tones may think differently upon hearing the complex rhythms and intoxicating melodies played by Schreiber and his musical partner, upright bassist Xar Adelberg.

Cinder Conk formed in the winter of 2010, after Adelberg, formerly bassist for the gypsy jazz trio Ameranouche, put an ad on Craigslist, looking for people to carpool to Boston to see a Balkan music group. Adelberg recently had become enamored of the music of Eastern Europe — especially music from countries such as Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.

“I wasn’t looking for a playing opportunity, but I had just started getting into the music and wanted to hear new stuff, constantly,” said Adelberg. “Matt and I didn’t end up going to the show, but we did hit it off immediately. He knew so much about it already. We got together to listen to music, and it turned out that I had my bass in my car, and he had his accordion in his car. It was meant to be.”

Shortly after their first encounter, Cinder Conk was born out of Adelberg and Schreiber’s shared love of the music. Cinder Conk plays 5-8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, at Rock City Books & Music in Rockland, as an unofficial one-year anniversary show. The duo will play again at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at She Don’t Like Guthries in Lewiston.

Schreiber, a New York native who has lived in Maine since he was 17 years old, has played the accordion for six years, practicing diligently for two years before finding a group to play in. That first group happened to be a Berlin, Germany-based circus theater group called Aquanaut, that he connected with while living in Portland. For several months, Schreiber sailed on a schooner with the group around the Baltic Sea, playing music with them. That’s where he was first exposed to Eastern European and klezmer music.

“I lived in Berlin for two years after that, and that’s where I really starting studying Serbian music, and Romanian music, and gypsy traditions and klezmer, and all that,” said Schreiber. “I really was drawn to it in a huge way.”

He returned to Maine in June 2009, moving to Rockland. Not long after that, he met Adelberg. Schreiber’s background in Eastern European music paired nicely with Adelberg’s serious jazz chops. As a graduate of the University of Maine at Augusta’s jazz program and a later member of a number of groups, including Ameranouche, she has lived and breathed music for most of her life.

Both musicians remain devoted to their love of the traditional songs of Eastern Europe — but aren’t afraid to put their own spin on it when playing live.

“From day one, we really shared the vision that we respect so deeply the musicians who actually originated and still make this music,” said Adelberg. “But we always knew we were going to be doing [our] version of it. We aren’t going to draw any lines between who we are and the music we love. It’s our version, in our own voice.”

Regardless of how traditional or experimental Cinder Conk may get, the reaction from audiences has been very positive. Balkan novices are drawn in by the alternately sensual and joyful sides to the music, while those familiar with or even from Balkan nations are thrilled to hear someone playing their music.

“There are always a couple people at shows who say to us, ‘Oh, my grandfather played records like this, or ‘My cousin’s girlfriend is from Serbia!’” said Adelberg. “We were busking on the street in Portland, and this girl freaked out and recognized the song we were playing and started dancing. That’s always really affirming.”

For information on Cinder Conk, visit reverbnation.com/cinderconk.

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