For 15 years, multi-instrumentalist Chris Rosser, bassist Eliot Wadopian, and percussionist River Guerguerian have been schooling listeners on the melodic richness of instruments like the oud and tabla, quarter tones, micro-tones and the rhythmic Carnatic language, under the banner of Free Planet Radio. In 2014, the trio applied for a Chamber Music America grant for jazz and world-music groups, and received funds to pay for new compositions and performances with Asheville’s Opal String Quartet. After sifting through a dozen other scores they’d composed for strings over the years, the group recorded a breathtaking album with Opal, Global Symphony Project, delivering romantic tango, Middle Eastern mash-ups, a slice of the American heartland, and the bouncy WNCW staple “Backyard Bangra.” Free Planet Radio’s inclusive brand of world beat has thrived here.
What is it about Western North Carolina?
River Guerguerian: You can put together what you want here. Whether it’s a relaxing meditation thing, or the gothic or underground metal scene, you can do it in your own authentic way. I don’t think it would sound the same if we lived in a big city. Maybe it’s taken us longer to get to our certain sound, but it’s been worth the journey.
That sound evolved beautifully on Global Symphony Project.
Eliot Wadopian: Chris’ genius showed through in this composition, using some interesting Middle Eastern musical techniques. We’ve been working on getting this music together for a long time. It’s kind of a concept record — specifically that element of non-western music. But doing it with the string quartet blended the two worlds not just conceptually, but sonically. Maybe that’s why people are digging it. As you go to different theaters around the world, audiences for world music and jazz and classical have all kind of combined.
Chris Rosser: One of the pieces on there had to be a through-composed piece, so that was one of the rare times that we haven’t had a jazz sensibility within a song. We almost always think of it as jazz. Even though other people might not hear it and think “jazz,” there’s often a lot of improvisation in it.
Sharing world music is actually in your mission statement.
Rosser: With the bad press about the Middle East, it’s easy for people to forget that some of the most amazing art that we have as humans came from that part of the world. Poetry, like Rumi and Hafez, and an incredible history of music.
Guerguerian: If you travel around the world, you realize the Israelis actually want to jam with the Palestinians and the Lebanese, and the Syrians and the Turks and the Greeks, Armenians — all the musicians want to play with each other. We’re really into unifying all that, and removing the political borders that separate us.
Free Planet Radio headlines Instruments Of Peace, a benefit for Syrian Refugee Relief through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, on Wednesday, April 6, at 6pm, at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hendersonville (900 Blythe Street). Cellist Franklin Keel opens the show. 828-692-6114, www.freeplanetradio.com