A suite of their own: Duo Fusion debuts original work at Amherst College concert
Duo Fusion blends the musical styles of Sarah Swersey, left, a classicaly trained flutist, and jazz and rock guitarist Joe Belmont.
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Sarah Swersey and Joe Belmont rehearse Thursday at Swersey's home in Northampton.
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When a self-taught jazz and rock guitarist joins forces with a classically-trained flutist, it can be difficult to find pieces of music to collaborate on. That’s why Joe Belmont, the guitarist half of Dúo Fusión, decided to write one himself.
Dúo Fusión — the other half of the group is flutist Sarah Swersey — explores genres, fusing influences from classical music, improvisational music, jazz and the occasional surf rock song. Belmont says his new work, a suite called “The History of Flute and Guitar,” fits the unique style of music he and Swersey have cultivated over the past five years.
“This suite, in a way, is filling something that’s missing,” Belmont said in a recent interview during a rehearsal break at Swersey’s home. “I feel like it’s something that’s great for flute and guitar, but no one had written it yet.”
Dúo Fusión will debut the work Saturday at Amherst College.
Belmont spent several months writing the piece, which he started last winter.
“I’d wake up every day and write for a couple of hours,” he said.
“The History of Flute and Guitar” is not his first foray into writing music. He spent many years in Quetzal, a local rock band, for which he wrote songs and arrangements.
“I still love that stuff,” he said.
Belmont, who lives in Florence, is on the music faculty at Amherst College and is director of jazz studies at the Northampton Community Music Center. His background is rooted squarely in the worlds of rock and jazz music. He is largely self-taught (“I learned most of what I know from records,” he says), and though he did study classical guitar for a year at City University of New York when he was in his 20s, he feels the thrill of an unfamiliar experience when he performs with classically trained players.
“That’s not my world,” he said. “I’m not from there.”
On the other hand, Swersey has a musical background that she describes as “purely classical.” A graduate of the Conservatory at Oberlin College and Yale School of Music, she lives in Northampton and teaches privately and at the Northampton Community Music Center. Early in her career, she spent seven years in the Canary Islands as the principle flutist in the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.
“That was a really exciting job for me,” Swersey said.
In 1997, Swersey moved to New York City where she performed at such venues as the Lincoln Center Festival and the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. She also participated in a workshop on improvisational music with Grammy-winning cellist David Darling, and says she was swept up in the new way of playing music.
“My brain was spinning around,” she said. “Often (classical players) are so afraid of doing anything that’s not written on the page. ... It’s fun, but it’s really different.”
Swersey says that improv work allowed her to embrace the non-classical work she does with Belmont.
Belmont says working so closely with Swersey during their weekly rehearsals has allowed him to refine his new piece based on her input. Plus, he added, her facility with classical music has lent energy and credibility to his own ability to play and write in that genre.
“She can sight-read just about anything perfect, and its incredible,” he said.
Swersey says it’s been exciting to work with Belmont on a part written especially for her.
“To have a conversation about it, and be able to make little changes ... it is a really unique experience to be able to do that,” Swersey said.
The 60-page suite is divided into three movements. “Journeyman,” the first, is classical in nature, and is upbeat and jaunty, much like an actual journeyman, who is trained and experienced in his trade, while the second movement, “A Day in the Life,” Belmont says, is more subdued, a haunting contrast to “Journeyman.”
Dúo Fusión’s tendency to blur the lines of genre shines through in the third movement, “Extrapolation.”
“I’m combining a lot of rhythms and feelings and styles,” Belmont said. It is fitting, he added, that “Extrapolation” is the third and final movement in the piece, as its blend of styles comments on the previous two movements.
In addition to debuting the suite, Dúo Fusión will present other pieces at the concert, and will be joined by Joe Fitzpatrick who plays the cachon (a Cuban percussion instrument).
“That’s why we’re called Dúo Fusión,” Swersey sais. “It really is a blending of different styles of music, and our backgrounds.”
“We’re going to rock a few songs out,” Belmont said.
Dúo Fusión will perform “The History of Flute and Guitar” and other works Saturday at 8 p.m., in Buckley Recital Hall at Amherst College. The concert is free. For more information, visit www.duo-fusion.com or call the Amherst College Concert Office at 542-2195.