(Photo by Jonas Wilson)
“What time is it?”
“You said no hard questions!” Cher Von shot back.
The two of us had stepped outside of Decca for some fresh air. The jazz was too hot, and in the moment, standing above and gazing into a healthy fire was the favorable choice. On a patio surrounded in concrete, pebble and iron gates, we listened to the heat coming from inside. Mike Hyman and the resident Buzzard was slamming down a tune. The fog hung down on Market street, where the thickness had followed us from Floyd (to our delight) and from the patio where we stood now only a scope of street view remained. Snow had massed from the previous weekend’s meteorological events, and it was only Monday…the heat inside grew strong. Now, felt like the right time to interview her.
I wanted to write about the artist Cher Von ever since I saw her perform at Dreamland last year. She had opened solo for Jonathan Wood’s acoustic/experimental ensemble. The two musical friends had recorded and released two EPs of improvised sessions in the previous year. It was a given on that night at Dreamland, that Cher would eventually join his set and continue on the dormant chemistry of those recordings. She said remembering a strong, positive energy that night. Of course, I remember it differently. (That venue coincidentally stands behind Decca, and J-Woo, as she calls him, was fatefully present this Monday night.)
“What turned you on to jazz music?” I spoke into the recorder. “We’ll start there.”
“It was actually fairly recent…I feel like in the last two years I’ve been getting more into jazz music, and it was actually thanks to local musicians.”
“Like who?” Great question.
“Thomaz Souza…and Thiago…I can’t say his last name. They’re both very beautiful Brazilian musicians. I used to live across the street from Monkey Wrench, and I just went over there for some food one day and they were having a jazz jam. So, I stayed for the whole thing. And then, I would go almost every single week. And ever since then…yeah, I’ve been getting more and more into it.”
I failed to ask how jazz connected with her own music, but she answered part of that for me later on when I coaxed her to name what vocalists and styles move her. Besides free-jazz singer Patty Waters and the big one Bobby McFerrin, the traditional sounds of Japanese Shamisen music is what occupies her ears as of late.
“The singing that’s usually accompanying it is just the most moody…” she said. “It almost sounds like they’re crying when they’re singing it, and it’s the most beautiful. It’s all I wanna listen to anymore.”
Shamisen is a three-stringed/trance-inducing lute instrument wrought in 16th century Japan, a powerful tool for conveying restrained emotion in vibrations. Its players use a large pick to maximize the sound, while some shamisen players use it for an outlandish evil called Shamisen Rock. Then, I remembered the huge collection of driftwood in her bedroom. I had complimented the artful arrangement. Turns out, she wants to make them into stringed instruments of sorts….because who needs new equipment when you just build your own? Of course. It’s all in step with her musical journey, a driftwood future of found sound, and the loop pedals put to bed. The version of Cher Von we’ve known on the scene is metamorphosing…but it’s too soon to say where she will go.
“When did you start making music and experimenting with loop pedals?”
“Oy” she smirked. “Yeah, the looping stuff I think it was about three years ago, when I used to play guitar a lot more, and I would write music with guitar. I started doing loop pedals mostly because I didn’t know people here yet, and thought it would be neat to experiment with just layering on my own, and writing music that way.”
Take yourself a moment and listen to her latest cassette, Kuhh Duhh, from Louisville-based label auralgamiSOUNDs. Recorded in her own time, and space, the album is a vocal synergy of raw beauty and minimalist approach. I couldn’t help relating to what she said about the shamisen tunes… “It’s such a moody way of singing and I have no idea what they’re saying, but I know. It’s like you kind of get the story anyway just from the way that they’re singing.”
What moves me in her music is exactly what moves her in others. The free-flow, and often playful, spirit of those guttural, breathy sounds translated to a color-spectrum of emotions in my mind. The songs, never accurately duplicated each time, thrive in a live setting. But all of her music is sort of like that.
The experience of seeing Cher Von improvise for a crowd of attuned listeners was, for me, centering. That night at Dreamland I was momentarily taken, no longer sitting in a dimly lit venue, in this moment. I was in a more desolate place. The walls were still there, however, all of them burned amber and goldenrod hues to liken the space she was clearing. The color shades reacted to her sound waves. And that’s how I listened to Cher’s vocal clips when she plunged deep into those strangely composed loops. Holding on to one was my solace in making it through, as her voice led a narrative of me walking on the soles of her mind’s shoes. Given the creatively driven and uncannily interesting person that she is, this is a great thing (but I don’t think I’ve even seen her wear shoes).
My goal since this event was to know more about Cher Von, a.k.a. Chervon Koeune, 27, who moved to Louisville from Harlan, Ky. about six years ago. I managed to have that answered, plus more, during our interactions amongst the fog, fire and snow. I’m grateful for her presence in the local music scene and being able to call her my friend. Next time, catch us at the yazz yam.