The Russell House had to say two farewells last Sunday afternoon. When Nancy Albert, the organizing force behind this and countless other Russell House events, introduced the final concert of innovative instrumental trio the New American Wing, she too bid her last goodbye. Two Wesleyan alums are members of the band, and Albert will leave Wesleyan at the end of the semester.
Daniel Raimi ’03, guitarist and de facto leader of the New American Wing, announced the band’s post-show dissolution near the end of the performance. A wave of surprise came across the crowd, as nothing in the performance up to that point indicated a sense of finality or closure. The group simply played as if it were any other show which, given the challenging nature of their music, allowed the thirty-five member audience a chance to focus solely on what was being played, and not on the musicians behind it.
The New American Wing, comprised of Raimi, cellist Erica Sattin ’03, and trumpeter Jacob Varmus, played an hour set that showcased the group’s unique blending of genres and styles. Gentle guitar ballads stood side-by-side with blazing, bluesy jazz pieces. Mournful cello solos coalesced with the soulful bleat of the trumpet. Even its members seemed to find it difficult to characterize in words the kind of music they create.
“We play chamber music, jazz-ish…” began Sattin before trailing off, gently mocking her previous attempts to summarize their singular sound.
Influences range far and wide for Raimi, who composed all of the pieces played in the show. He does not attribute the mixing of divergent musical areas to any specific plan or model, but describes a far more organic creative process.
“There is so much music swimming around in the world and in my head,” Raimi said. “It comes down to not thinking about genres, but thinking about music.”
The flowing and expressive nature of the New American Wing’s music makes it a seemingly ideal candidate for a film or television score, and Raimi readily admits the inspiration he has received from both art forms.
“It’s my biggest influence besides music,” the performer said.
Credit the ease with which the group performs these genre-defying pieces to the personal history of the New American Wing. Raimi and Sattin have known one another since their freshman year but waited until senior year to begin playing together, an inexplicable time gap both acknowledge with a laugh. Joined by Varmus, a friend of Raimi’s, the three formed the New American Wing in the winter of 2004, performing throughout the Northeast and even appearing on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”
So why disband now? Those looking for juicy, Behind the Music-style infighting will be disappointed. As told by Raimi, Varmus wanted to pursue the other musical groups he belonged to. After much talk, Sattin too decided that a breakup was best.
“I’m not ready to commit to this full-time,” said Sattin, who majored in sociology and is considering social work or arts administration and education as future occupations. Raimi, meanwhile, will continue to pursue music.
And though there were no tearful speeches or breakdowns mid-song, both Sattin and Raimi insist the performance was nothing if not emotional. The Russell House possesses great significance for both of them, giving the afternoon an added emotional tenor. Raimi’s parents, both musicians, played in the same space years prior. Sattin’s final performance as a senior took place there barely three years ago.
Both vow they will remain close friends and will continue to play with one another on an informal basis. Still, feelings remained complex.
“I feel a twinge of something, not quite sure what,” said Raimi, who remains cautiously optimistic about the future. “It’s like looking back on a trip you took, but looking forward toward another too.”
Looking toward the road ahead aptly describes Nancy Albert’s final Russell House concert. Albert parts with Wesleyan to move closer to family in Charlottesville, North Carolina. There, she will continue to pursue her passion for photography, and remain an editor for Hog River Journal, “Hartford and the Region’s Magazine of History, Culture and the Arts.” When asked why she chose to leave, Albert smiled and replied simply that, “it seemed like the right time.”
Albert will fondly remember her years organizing the Russell House Concert Series, the importance of which she continues to stress. She has enjoyed bringing the talents of Wesleyan faculty and alumni, such as the New American Wing, to the series, and takes clear pride in the free admission to the public.
“It builds good relations with the community,” Albert said, adjusting her Wesleyan-red shawl.