Kaki King: The queen of kings strums on guitar strings

Kaki King: the queen of acoustic guitar kings, hailed as “a genre unto herself” by Rolling Stone.

Ethel: post-classical string quartet describes as “indefatigable and eclectic” by the New York Times.

In late October, musical non-conformists Kaki King and the quartet Ethel made their way to Edmonds, Washington for the first time during their national tour, a collaborative concert they call “…And Other Stories”. The concert took place at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, which is tucked away from the big city, surrounded by mom and pop shops, niche restaurants as well as brand-stamped buildings such as Starbucks. Throughout their tour, Kaki King and Ethel have been opting for smaller, more community-based venues, which leaves viewer content with their close proximity to the ground-breaking artists they admire. They made the space their own, filling the room with colorful soundscapes and vibrant collaboration. Their professional composure was neatly contrasted by their passion and creativity.

Ethel is comprised of four New-York based artists, each with distinct background in music. Quartet members, violist Ralph  Farris, cellist Dorothy Lawson and violinists Kip Jones and Tema Watstein teamed well with Kaki King, producing a group that successfully explored their understandings of the world around them through music. They carry with them a generational gap and a myriad of musical preferences, which are characteristics they clearly embrace and explore. As a viewer, I felt that each of their unique skill sets shone through with the help of their fellow performers. They build each other up, and dared to drown out each other’s sounds with respect and grace. Each of their styles, individually, might be viewed as vastly different. When combined, they produce works that bear extreme highs and lows, honesty, falsity, youth and maturity.

Each armed with their personal style and musical flare, the group of five wowed audiences, sharing unique tunes that took listeners on trips to polar opposite sides of memory and the world: from familiar folk to invigorating yet relaxing jazz, from post-rock to new-classical, the concert was provocative and interesting. There was even a bit of “crazy, if you’re into that,” as described before the performance of one particular song by Tema Watstein of Ethel. The works took us on sonic adventures, soaring through calming tunes and swimming through heavy messages.

The performance was did indeed unravel the themes of their “Other Stories.” The instruments were used as tools of conversation, the audience could hear songs sung in harmony, brilliant arguments between strings, powerful statements made by percussive slaps and finger taps, and everything spoken was strangely beautiful. The concert was anchored by a memorable reimagining of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #6, which was surrounded by works from Ethel’s repertoire writing by Phil Kline and John Zorn, original works by Kaki King and a carefully crafted combination of the two.

The performance closed with a well-deserved standing ovation, as if the artists could hear the hopes of the viewers, they stepped out into the main corridor with them, offering a chance for conversations to brew, questions to be answers and CD to be signed. I wish I could witness these five collaborative again. Without a doubt, it was a night well-spent.