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Shawn Hansen and Charlotte Street import avant-garde touring musicians with the Sycamore House performance series

The Sycamore House series returns to the Paragraph gallery.



I just got back from an emergency piano tuning," Shawn Hansen told The Pitch last week.

If you were heretofore unaware that pitch correction can take on such urgency, you're not without company. But sometimes a storm of events arises, and a piano tuner such as Hansen must bounce into crisis mode.

"It was for a radio show that's being recorded today," Hansen says. "I went in yesterday to tune it, but the rain and change of weather was enough to throw things off overnight. So they called me back in. I changed two notes for them."

Hansen's day job requires that he interact with instruments all across the city, but a new endeavor he has been working on finds him eliciting sounds from actual humans. Sycamore House, a performance series that Hansen curates in conjunction with the Charlotte Street Foundation, is back for its second installment Sunday, at the Paragraph gallery. Hansen says the concept of Sycamore House is part of a larger goal of connecting Kansas City with touring musicians from other cities.

"When I was living in New York and Boston and playing in groups with people, we'd do these tours that would only go as far east as St. Louis or Chicago," he says. "And being from here originally, I always wondered why nobody would go that extra three or four hours to Kansas City. So I always thought in the back of my mind that if I ever moved back home, I would try to facilitate that."

Four years ago, Hansen indeed returned to KC. A multi-instrumentalist, he keeps busy performing with Mark Southerland's various avant-garde jazz groups and, until recently, playing lead alto sax in Hearts of Darkness.

"Once I was back here, old friends and musicians would call and tell me they were traveling through the area and wondering if there was a place in town they could play," he says. "So I'd try to find them a house show or book them a show at a gallery or bar venue or something. Then I went to Charlotte Street with the idea of a regular series where we could invite people who were already out on tour to come in for a show. And they seemed interested.

"For now, it's really about planning these shows based on people who are already traveling in KC's direction — getting them in the midst of a tour," Hansen continues. "I think the next step would be to invite people here, but to do that you need some funding or guarantee to offer people."

The first installment of Sycamore House was held last July, at La Esquina. It featured performances from Justin Wright (of local drone act Expo '70) and Chris Forsyth (an experimental guitarist with whom Hansen used to play in New York).

"I think it went pretty well for a debut performance series," Hansen says. "There were people there that I didn't know personally — new faces that I think just heard about it by word of mouth, which is what you hope for."

That show was electric-guitar-centric — both Forsythe and Wright are guitar savants. Sunday's show circles around an acoustic theme. Virginian guitarists Daniel Bachman and Ian McColm are on tour together, performing separately. Awhile back, Bachman sent Hansen "a cold e-mail saying he's a friend of so-and-so, and that he and Ian would like to play in Kansas City if we would have them," Hansen says.

"Daniel's work is definitely centered on the acoustic side of things. Ian does a lot of styles, but as we talked about it, we thought it would be cool to keep it cohesive and focus on acoustic sounds," Hansen says. "And it's the middle of winter. It seemed like an appropriate theme somehow."

J. Ashley Miller, as JAMetatone, performs a solo acoustic set, and in between sets, Sam Hughes (DJ Long Con) plays 78 rpm records on Victrolas. He's bringing two. "One of the Victrolas is basically a piece of furniture, this large cabinet thing," Hansen says. "The other is more of a portable contraption, a picnic model of a Victrola."

In keeping with the acoustic-analog theme, Hansen says he's working to eliminate the need for all electricity at the show. "Charlotte Street has sourced us some candles, so we're going to try and only use those for lighting," he says. "I think that will bring the entire show together visually, though I'm not sure how it's going to work yet. If we have to turn on some lights, we have to turn on some lights. But it would be pretty fun not to."

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