Fishtank Ensemble
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Fishtank Ensemble


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"For those in need of having their dervish whirled"

For those in need of having their dervish whirled, the Bay Area's
Fishtank Ensemble are the rompin', stompin' leaders of
cross-pollinated Gypsy music. French fiddler Fabrice Martinez paid
dues gigging Europe in a mule-drawn caravan, including stints in
Romani villages. El Douje is the master of 21st-century flamenco
guitar, while Aaron Seeman is the king of punk accordion. Audience
eyes tend to focus on Ursula Knudsen, not only for her virtuosic saw
playing and a voice that sings in octaves not yet invented, but also
for her sensual beauty. The mix includes a Japanese shamisen player
and a rock-bottom upright bassist, and we have a young band that is
one of the most thrilling live acts on the planet." - LA Weekly - LA Weekly

"Gypsy Cabaret"

French fiddler Fabrice Martinex carried his affection for Romanian folk music to Oakland, Calif., where he joined accordionist Aaron Seeman, Serbian jazz bassist Djordje Stjepovic, singer/violinist/sawer Ursula Knudson and guitarist Doug Smolens. Rather like the kind of exotically stocked musiquarium the name suggests, Fisthank deliciously integrates rock, jazz, gypsy, klezmer, flamenco, classical, Swedish folk and more into its sound. Obviously ashamed of its narrow horizons, the ensemble added Mike Penny on shamisen, a three-stringed lute used in japanese folk music - and somehow it all works in a way that's more mashup than mishmash. BRETT CAMPBELL. Mississippi Studios 8pm. $10 advance $12 day of show.
- Willamette Week


Obviously most current music talk is centered around the various festivals we had over the weekend; however, I'd like to quickly mention a show I saw on a whim last night that took me completely by surprise.

Fishtank Ensemble, with opener Luminescent Orchestrii was one of the best shows of the year, hands down.

Fusion gypsy music, played with unbelievable virtuosity on odd acoustic instrumentation and the energy of punk and rockabilly-- that's the best I can muster in words. Check out the Isthmus listing for more details. I am not exaggerating when I say my jaw dropped in astonishment multiple times that evening. Oh, and there was belly dancing.

While it was a Monday night after the biggest music festival weekend of the year, turnout was still decent, and the audience loved it. The end of the night saw both bands jam together on and around the High Noon bar, with plenty of clapping and dancing.

Not to be missed the next time they come around! - THE DAILY PAGE


After reviewing or critiquing god knows how much music over the last five years I've discovered a pattern I tend to fall into. Although there are a few performers I've followed for years and will continue to do so because of their ability to keep their work fresh by continually discovering new ways of presenting their ideas, too often a person or group will be initially exciting only to end up being disappointing by sticking to the same formula repeatedly. While I can understand the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality to a certain extent, in my opinion when it comes to the creative process that only leads to stagnation and boredom. There are more times than I'd like to count over that I've been really excited by the first couple of discs a performer or group have put out to only become frustrated and bored with them by the third disc when they continue to do the same thing over and over again.
As a result I've been reviewing a lot less music of late. It just seems harder and harder to find somebody or some band interesting enough to even give a listen to, let alone review. Maybe part of the problem is the number of press releases finding their way into my inbox on a daily basis using the same group of adjectives to describe whatever genre of music they happen to be promoting. Everybody, from blues to death metal, seem to be fresh and exciting, or at the very least invigorating. So many bands are being described as alternative these days I'm falling back on Ellen Page's line in her roller derby movie Whip It and asking "Alternative to what?" How can you be alternative when you sound like a thousand other bands out there?
Thankfully I tend to exaggeration. If the scene were as bad as I describe it sometimes I think I'd blow my brains out. There are still bands and musicians out there who provide genuine alternatives to the mind-sapping pabulum that passes for popular music on the radio these days. One who I've just been fortunate enough to stumble across are a four-piece outfit who go by the really odd name of The Fishtank Ensemble. They've just put out their third release - on their own label - called Woman In Sin, and I can guarantee you'll be hard pressed to find a more eclectic collection of songs gathered onto one CD anywhere. The lead singer, Ursula Knudson, used to sing opera; violinist Fabrice Martinez is from Paris and studied with gypsy violinists across Europe; guitarist Doug Smolens used to hang out with Billy Idol and Slash before becoming hooked on flamenco and running off to Spain to learn from masters in the caves around Granada; while Djordje Stijepovic started playing bass with local Romany bands in Serbia when he was 13 until moving to the US where he joined a band with Lemmy from Motorhead and Slim Jim Phantom from the Stray Cats.


"Fishtank Ensemble-Woman in Sin"

Like an aquarium with various species of fish, so the sound of the Fishtank Ensemble swims with a variety of genres and international music styles. The California based acoustic quartet boasts a jumping slap bassist, a torrid gypsy violinist, a rhythm-happy guitarist and a versatile, histrionic singer and musical saw player/violinist in Ursula Knudson.

Throughout this breezy, jumping record, the ensemble injects Romany jazz, bluegrass, western swing, klezmer, folk, pop and blues all spiced by Arabic, Kurdish, Greek, Turkish, Eastern European, French and Spanish touches. And if the group’s musical reach and pin-point execution aren’t enough, there are Knudson’s incredible vocals.

The singer can scat like Ella Fitzgerald, smolder like Peggy Lee and jam radar like an opera diva. Sometimes she recalls Billie Holiday, and other times she sounds like Betty Boop on helium.

The Fishtankers prove most world musical genres can not only co-exist and give unbridled joy but also can get the world up and dancing. - Pilot Online

"Live music from Fishtank Ensemble"

January 11, 2004 -- "Live music from the group Fishtank Ensemble...They played a blend of French swing, Transylvanian, flamenco, gypsy music--and they were incredible!"

-- Gypsy Flores, host of "Giramondu" show on KUSP radio, 88.9 FM - KUSP radio 88.9 FM

"Local Live music review column"

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Dec 3, 2004 - "[Fishtank are] really great musicians who sound surprisingly natural together when you consider their different subspecialties: flamenco, Japanese folk, klezmer, Romanian wedding music, and so on. [Kevin] Kmetz, accordionist Aaron Seeman, and flamenco guitarist Doug Smolens are virtuoso players with the good sense not to beat us over the head. The fact that you're hearing shamisen, accordion, and flamenco guitar together doesn't even consciously register most of the time, which is subtly kind of amazing. When was the last time you heard a shamisen and an accordion together?...

"Even so, the stars of this band are Fabrice Martinez, a French-born violinist, and his wife, Swedish vocalist, violinist, and musical saw-magician Ursula Knudsen. (In keeping with the band's multi-kulti globe-trotting tendencies, the couple recently moved to Italy.) "Not only is Knudsen the best musical saw player I've had the chance to witness (granted, there's not much competition), but she also sings with opera-worthy finesse and makes insanely difficult passages -- singing at breakneck tempos in a foreign language in 7/16 time -- seem effortless. She's cool. Martinez, who reportedly spent seven years traveling around Europe in a horse-drawn wagon learning songs, is a master at the sort of feverish Romanian folk tunes that bands such as Taraf de Haidouks are famous for.

"Their collective talents aside, the best things to be said about the Fishtank Ensemble are that they sound like a real band, not a hastily thrown together supergroup, and they avoid turning their sound into a cheap world-music showcase...Their repertoire flows naturally from flamenco to klezmer to Romanian and Hungarian folk and beyond. There's no catch here and nothing conceptual at work...It's just great music played by great musicians..."

--Will York, in "Local Live" column - San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Euro Fish: When in Rom, Fiddle"

(Published Wednesday, November 23, 2005)

SAT 11/26 -- One dull gray November afternoon during rush hour, the wild sounds coming from the Ashby BART station made it seem as if the commuters had suddenly gone into a time warp and been deposited at a campsite outside Zagreb. Gypsy violins swirled over the rhythmic pumping of an accordion, a man sat playing a Django-Reinhardt guitar, and a dark-haired, haunted-looking young woman sang a the mournful tune, Survivors no doubt a song of lost love. A couple of women began to dance. Passersby tossed money into the open instrument case. A few listeners gathered, among them a small mustachioed man with a contented smile on his face. Finally one of the musicians spoke: "Hello, everybody. We're Fishtank."

East Bay has nurtured numerous Eastern European ethnic music groups and has hosted still more, but very few local klezmer-Balkan-Gypsy dance bands have the credentials of this Oakland-Santa Cruz-based ensemble. When he isn't slashing bowstrings with Fishtank, French-born violinist Fabrice Martinez travels Europe in a mule caravan alongside fellow Fishtank fiddler Ursula Knudsen, who also doubles on musical saw and sings in a variety of languages. Kevin Kmetz, who grew up in northern Japan, plays shamisen (three-stringed lute) not only on the band's traditional Japanese numbers but also in a Romanian context -- he makes it sound like a tsimbalom. Accordionist Aaron Seeman (also of Punk Rock Orchestra and Duckmandu) enjoys mixing klezmer with Rossini opera, while guitarist Doug Smolens and bassist Glenn Allen veer off frequently into flamenco.

They first got together in 2003 at an Oakland warehouse performance space with fishtank graphics on the wall behind the stage, and the name stuck. It's your basic Euro-boondocks folkish cafe entertainment, with a string section that will make you spill your slivovitz.

Fishtank's West Coast tour, which brings the band to Mama Buzz Cafe & Gallery in Oakland (2318 Telegraph Ave.) Saturday night (7 p.m., $5) on its way to SF, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles, is all about its new CD, Super Raoul. Learn more at

--Kelly Vance, in "Scenes" column - East Bay Express

"The musical surprises get better and better."

RadioMike's New Show (#121, 15 May 2006)
FISHTANK ENSEMBLE can be quirkily described as Gypsy influenced with Swedish, Flamenco, And Klezmer influence. Chew on that for a while, but you won't even begin to comprehend exactly what that is until you hear it, and you Must hear this. It has all of the passion of Eastern Europe, the Rom, and a wee bit of Swedish thrown in for a dash of flavor. Fishtank Ensemble is why we keep doing our Show. The musical surprises get better and better.

-- Mike Perazzetti, host of RadioMike's New Show - Radio Mike New Show


Super Raoul - 2006 LP
Samurai Over Serbia - 2008 LP
Woman in Sin - 2010 LP



Formed in 2005 and playing everywhere from the hippest LA clubs to festivals, cultural centers, museums, parades, and even on the street, the band includes two explosive violins, the world's best slap bass player, musical saw, flamenco and gypsy jazz guitar, trombone, opera, jazz and gypsy vocals, accordion and one little banjolele. Tackling everything from French hot jazz to wild Serbian and Transylvanian gypsy anthems, Flamenco, and oddball originals, the band is a not to be missed event for world music lovers...and everyone will love this intoxicating mix of music!!

The LA Weekly calls them “cross pollinated gypsy music….one of the most thrilling young acts on the planet.”