If you lived around here in the 1980s and 1990s you couldn’t miss the music of the Lunar Glee Club. They were everywhere, from the Art Fair and Top of the Park to the Del Rio, the Blind Pig, and venues further afield, including the famed Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival.
The band’s name was a misnomer: “glee club” implied vocals, but the group never had any. And even after renaming themselves the Lunar Octet, they regularly had nine or more players; over the course of their history, more than two dozen musicians have cycled in and out. Many of them, like Paul Vornhagen, Pete Siers, Paul Finkbeiner, and David Stearns, are still active in the local and national music scene, and a few, like drummer Jon Krosnick (who tours with oboist Paul McCandless) and renowned pianist Craig Taborn, have attained international recognition.
From the beginning, the Lunar Octet’s focus and purpose was to provide an opportunity for its members to compose and play original music–any and every style and genre was welcome. While the original inspiration for two of the founders, bassist Dan Ladizinsky and percussionist Aron Kaufman, was the music of Afropop giant King Sunny Ade, the band’s unclassifiable eclectic sound quickly came to encompass swing, funk, Latin, rock, bebop, classical, and more. The original Lunar Glee Club featured saxophones, trumpets, two basses, percussion, and an electric guitar that played only solo lines (no chords). Despite this bricolage of sounds, the band achieved a remarkable coherence due to its top-notch musicianship and because all the members contributed to the compositional process. The result was challenging music that energized audiences; it was rich, complex, high-energy, danceable, and unique. Even when they eventually added keyboards and their sound became a bit more conventional, Lunar Octet remained innovative as they continued to explore and expand the sonic possibilities of the ensemble, incorporating the contributions of new members.
The Lunar Octet had a highly successful decade-plus, playing frequently and releasing four recordings before, at the end of the 1990s, members’ jobs and families pulled them to resettle all over the continent. But after a fifteen-year hiatus, they held a reunion show at the Kerrytown Concert House in 2014. Featuring eight members of the original band, as well as several other alumni and some new faces, they showed that the intervening years had not diminished their musical skills or the bonds that helped create their memorable music. In 2016 they reunited again, and on June 3 they will play another reunion show at the Kerrytown Concert House.