In January 2004, at the weekend-long Bayou Bedlam contra dance festival in Houston, guitarist-banjo player Larry Unger and fiddler Eden MacAdams-Somer met at a jam session.
MacAdams-Somer was familiar with some of his tunes and tried one of them out - a waltz called "Two Rivers."
"She played it so well, I couldn't believe it," Unger said.
Two months later, they recorded "Two Rivers" for the first compact disc by their year-old band, Notorious. They chose the name in honor of the 1946 Alfred Hitchcock film.
"We thought about 'North by Northwest,' but we're not from that part of the country," MacAdams-Somer said.
The first show by MacAdams-Somer/Unger was March 3, 2004, at a contra dance in Princeton, N.J. They've toured together relentlessly since then, and are booked well into 2006. Their first show as Notorious was last April 15, in Glen Echo, Md., and the CD will come out sometime later this year.
House concert: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, at McPhetres Hall, Fourth and Gold streets in Holy Trinty Church. $10 at the door.
Contra dance: 8-10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at Capital School. Dance instruction at 7:30 p.m. $8 at the door, or $5 with a coupon from Wednesday's show. Dance instruction with Odette Foster at 7:30 p.m.
This week's upcoming dances
A Thursday Night Contra Dance, with Grateful Celtics and Jim Grammel, will be held from 7:30-9:45 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Terry Miller Legislative Offices gymnasium.
A New England Barn Dance, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at Centennial Hall. Full Circle will play. Tom Paul will teach and call the dances.
MacAdams-Somer and Unger now live in Lincoln, Mass., 20 miles outside of Boston. And though they've both been involved in numerous music projects, Notorious will be their focus for the time being. They both share the same interests in diverging styles - traditional Celtic, old-time, bluegrass, gypsy, Eastern European, swing, jazz, blues, even Bach.
"More and more, it's just the band Notorious; it's the best playing experience for me," Unger said.
"For me, this is the band," MacAdams-Somer said. "I feel like I have the most room with this band, and the most satisfying experience. It's rare to find musicians who enjoy playing so many different kinds of music, and Larry wants to play them authentically. If we decide we want to play Greek music, we really want to play it right. That's something that we both appreciate."
Notorious will stop in Juneau, Homer, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kenai on this tour. In November, they'll tour the Eastern Seaboard. Their concerts include some improvisation and some straight-ahead arrangements. They've been known to hear a song in the car on the way to a show, and try it out.
"The greatest pleasure for me is playing things together," MacAdams-Somer said. "We play things very differently all the time. Sometimes we feel like taking off and improvising, and sometimes the people appreciate a rune that's so simple in its original form, that it's great to play it over and over again."
MacAdams-Somer moved to Houston when she was a girl. She grew up in a musical family and was playing classical violin by age 6. She studied music at the University of Houston and earned her master's degree at Rice University.
She started playing contra dance in Houston, where she learned about New England and Celtic music. From there, she branched off. She has been a soloist with symphony and chamber orchestras, jazz and swing bands and bluegrass and old-time groups. She's also studied Irish, gypsy, Sephardic and European music dating back to the medieval and renaissance periods.
She left Houston about a year ago, moving into a house with Unger in Lincoln, Mass., 20 miles outside of Boston.
"I'd just been in Houston for a long time and was ready to go some place different," she said. "I was thinking about moving to New York because I have a lot of family there, but I got a chance to drive around New England, Massachusetts specifically."
Unger grew up in Detroit and didn't grow up as a musician. He began playing guitar in college and later taught himself to play banjo, slide guitar, banjo-guitar, fretless banjo and piano harp.
Unger moved to New England about 30 years ago and has been a full-time musician since 1984. Unger has toured across the United States, Canada, Scotland, France, Denmark and Sweden and played with many well-known contra bands. He's also accompanied some of the top fiddlers in the country, such as Ralph Blizard, Judy Hyman, Alasdair Fraser, Matt Glaser, Elke Baker, Rodney Miller and Lissa Schneckenburger. He's known for his technical skill, his original waltz and fiddle tunes and his breadth of historical knowledge of the styles he plays.
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