To celebrate their accelerating success, members are returning to Ann Arbor for a performance.
Although reunions are generally geared toward looking back and catching up, that hasn’t been so for the Lunar Octet, a Latin jazz group formed in 1983 by students at the University of Michigan.
A performance reunion of the octet, after some 12 years of changing memberships and almost 20 years of being disbanded, is moving the group forward with a recording now receiving international acclaim as it is played on many radio stations.
Convergence, holding 14 tracks of original Lunar Octet compositions, was released by Summit Records in May. It is topping the jazz charts and drawing performance invitations from venues across three continents.
To celebrate their accelerating success, members are returning to Ann Arbor for a performance of the tracks and perhaps numbers written since. They will appear Wednesday evening, Aug. 11, at the Blue Llama Jazz Club.
Aron Kaufman, a composer-percussionist in the original group and still living in Ann Arbor, composed five of the numbers with each one having a story behind it as does the title of the album. Kaufman’s commitment to the Lunar Octet style continues as he teaches Jewish studies at Hillel Day School and Adat Shalom Synagogue, both in Farmington Hills, and performs with other groups.
“Jon Krosnick, our drummer who lives in California, got people motivated to perform again,” Kaufman said. “We did a show and were encouraged to record the numbers. We came up with the title Convergence because of the way we had to coordinate rehearsals of the mostly instrumental tracks. It involved travel from both the Eastern and Western United States so everyone could converge in Ann Arbor.
“Convergence is also a convergence of musical styles that bring together a jazz matrix with world flavors from the continent of Africa as well as countries that include Cuba and Brazil. There are sound variations that you wouldn’t normally find on one recording as we highlight our individual musical expressions that have many world influences.”
The members’ original musical intent was captured in the group’s first name, Lunar Glee Club, which was to suggest singing through instruments, not vocalizing. In that vein, the first song on the album, “Norm’s Nambo,” was written by Kaufman with a mambo beat in tribute to a former mentor.
“When I first began playing conga drums, I studied with Norm Shobey,” Kaufman explained. “He had performed on Broadway and played briefly with the 5th Dimension music group. Norm was an incredibly creative conga player who would take different rhythms and combine them creatively. That inspired me to think about music creatively.”
Another number by Kaufman is “Heart of Congatar,” based on a pattern he played using four conga drums. After a fellow musician commented that the four drums in combination sounded like a tune, Kaufman realized that composing was something that could be done using congas instead of the usual piano or guitar. The title is a wordplay that associates the conga and guitar.
Other Kaufman songs on the recording, sometimes explained in live performance, include “Oye,” “Subway Tension” and “Dancin’ in the Doghouse.”
“Because of the relationship among musicians and how we developed over many years, we are a genre-busting kind of a band,” said Kaufman, whose musicianship also has him appearing with his own Dream Ensemble, Gemini and Tumbao Bravo. “We have multiple influences and find that it all works together. It’s all of our personal soul music.”
Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University who provides political consultation on voting for the federal government, is thrilled about the acceptance of the Lunar Octet’s continuing style.
Regularly appearing with the group Charged Particles, which takes him to foreign countries, he is glad a current recording project is connecting him with his Jewish roots. Charged Particles has performed at many Jewish centers as they play music in tribute to Michael Brecker, the late Jewish composer-saxophonist.
“We’re just breathless, knocked out and completely stunned by the world’s reaction to the Lunar Octet recording,” said Krosnick, who made the initiating contact with Summit Records. “We’re being submitted for a Grammy nomination, and we’re humbled by that.”
Part of the pleasure experienced by the group has to do with the many complimentary reviews in noted jazz publications, such as Jazziz and Downbeat. Reviewers repeat liking the joyful sounds that seem to make listeners want to dance.
“We worked for about 10 years to perfect our music and became more mature players during our 20-year break from the Lunar Octet,” Krosnick said. “We came back from the break playing that music again with one new song on the recording — ‘Until I Find the Words’ by Stephen Hiltner.”
The Lunar Octet will appear starting at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 11, at the Blue Llama Jazz Club, 314 S. Main, Ann Arbor. Three 45-minute sets. $10. (734) 372-3200. bluellamaclub.com.