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Flutist Alex Hamburger Has Found “A Crew” And An Audience In Cleveland

Alex Hamburger
photocredit: Nick Moreland

When you’re talking about comebacks, the Cavs recent run of thrillers has nothing on the resurgence of the flute.

It wasn’t so long ago that the silvery cylinder, in the hands of Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy character, was a meme-able stand in for disco-era musical cotton candy. But now, artists like André 3000 and Shabaka Hutchings are pied pipers bringing new credibility, and new audiences to the flute.

Just ask flutist, vocalist, and composer Alex Hamburger . “I think there’s been a lot of cool flute stuff happening for a while, but I think it’s exciting when other people get excited about it,” she said. “For me, it was always cool.”

Alex Hamburger
photocredit: Nick Moreland

Hamburger returns to BOP STOP Sunday night for her third appearance at the Hingetown club in four years. Her ubiquity on that stage, and the musicians who will join her there, including bassist Kip Reed, Gabe Jones on drums and percussionist Patrick Duke Graney, might suggest that Hamburger has taken up residence on the shores of Lake Erie. Yet the flutist and her pianist and husband Jose Luiz Martins, are based in Washington, DC.

Still, the audience rapport she has established here keeps her coming back. “There’s just so many amazing musicians and such a tight scene and a lot of legendary musicians,” she said in a video call earlier this week. “The audiences seem so open and into hearing original music, and I feel that sometimes that’s always the first thing to go in a city.”

“. . . found my crew”

Hamburger’s original music will have a distinctly Brazilian flavor, lent authority by Martins, a São Paulo native. The Brazilian connection was also crucial in the formation of her New York band. “My drummer Chase [Elodia] went to Oberlin, and Chase knew Pat [Graney] from Oberlin. The first time we came to Cleveland, we did a double bill with Pat and then Pat ended up just sitting in my band. It was one of those magic moments where you’re like, Oh, I found part of my crew, my sound.”

Alex Hamburger What If? album cover

That sound has been an evolving, to embrace not only jazz and Brazilian music, but also the textural and atmospheric possibilities of the studio. Her latest recording, What If? (Unit Records, 2023) wraps Hamburger’s flute and vocals in an enveloping cloud of shimmering synthesizers and Wurlitzer piano sounds. It’s an appropriate sonic frame for the record’s centerpiece, “Molinos de Vientos [Windmills],” a two-part sound painting inspired by Don Quixote and Dada poetry.

Poetry and sound

Poetry has been fundamental in Hamburger’s life and art. Her grandmother, Ana Maria Codas, was a notable poet in her native Paraguay. ‘My grandmother was an activist and a poet and an educator in Paraguay during the dictatorship there that lasted 35 years,” Hamburger said. “She built a school with her own hands and started what became a national movement for academic integrity. She passed when I was 13, so I didn’t really get to have adult conversations with her, but I’d say that post-college, I started to rediscover all of her writing, and for me, that was a really strong starting place.”

So was her grandmother’s social activism, a tradition that Hamburger carries on in her work as a community organizer and producer of “My Body, My Festival,” a fundraiser for the DC Abortion Fund.

Producing that event, Hamburger said, “has really shown me what music can do in a community organizing sense. I think as musicians, we study this specific thing so much that [we] don’t know how to do anything else and how to be an active part in society other than making music. That was something I always struggled with. But being a bandleader, you have all these skills, and they’re so closely related to community organizing. Now putting together and presenting an event gives me a similar rush to playing a show.

“It brings a lot to me.”

Alex Hamburger, Sun., March 10, 7 p.m., BOP STOP, 2920 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets $20, available here. The concert will be livestreamed on BOP STOP’s Facebook page.

NOTE: This article was written by a real human being. No artificial intelligence or generative language models were used in its creation.

Red beans and ricely yours,