When Cuddle Magic played in the region before – at the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs and opening for Lost In The Trees at Proctors in Schenectady – the audiences were a bit thin.
Through constant touring over the past four years and the release of two acclaimed CDs, the Brooklyn/Philadelphia collective has been picking up fans along the way, and their Caffe Lena debut last Saturday night had twice as many fans as both of their previous Nippertown appearances combined.
This time out Cuddle Magic was joined in a collaborative effort by the exquisite pianist Phyllis Chen, who is one of this country’s leading performers on – believe it or not – the toy piano. Before you dismiss the notion of someone playing the toy piano seriously, keep in mind that Chen is a conservatory trained pianist and student of the world-acclaimed classical pianist Andre Watts.
Through two thoroughly intriguing sets of original tunes, Chen’s percussion-tinged toy piano sounded more like a xylophone than a piano. The six members of Cuddle Magic – both in accompaniment to Chen or leading the charge – played a flowing multi-instrumental smorgasbord of harmonic and sometimes dissonant sounds that kept the audience glued to every musical nuance.
More art house than coffee house fare, the music of Cuddle Magic and Phyllis Chen somehow delightfully fit into Caffe Lena’s intimate environment and performance philosophy. If and when the combination returns, it’s highly recommended to see them if you love an eclectic mix of music that spans the range from experimental classical to world beat.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk