Rinde Eckert is a singer, composer, instrumentalist, actor, dancer, writer and director whose solo pieces and collaborations with other composers, dancers and musicians have been performed throughout the United States and abroad. Known for his remarkably flexible and inventive singing voice, Rinde is also a multi-intstrumentalist (piano, accordion, guitar, harmonica, trombone, baritone horn) who has long been celebrated for his performances in multi-media theater pieces with the Paul Dresher Ensemble and the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, among others. But, in recent years, it is his work as a solo artist that has attracted increasing attention. In reviewing Eckert's performance at Manhattan's Dance Theater Workshop, the New York Times' John Rockwell described it as "the most exciting performance art this writer has encountered since the early days of Laurie Anderson."

Rinde's musical approach transcends stylistic pigeonholes. He is a classically trained singer who has expanded his vocabulary to reflect a wide range of contemporary musical styles. This modern treatment of a variety of vernacular and classical music straddles the boundary between the time-honored and the new, the mysterious and the familiar, taking the listener on an uncommonly fascinating journey.

Rinde recently performed on Jerry Granelli’s new CD Sandhills Reunion. Produced by Lee Townsend, it features music by drummer Granelli and this bandmates with vocals and spoken text written and performed by Rinde. The band members are Francois Houle (clarinet), Jeff Reilly (bass clarinet), David Mott (baritone sax), Christoph Both (cello), Christian Kögel (electric and acoustic guitars) and J. Anthony Granelli (bass, lap steel guitar). It has been released on the Canadian label, Songlines.

Throughout the 90’s Rinde collaborated on three CD’s with Producer Lee Townsend. His most recent is Story In, Story Out (Intuition, 1997), featuring two audio plays in which Rinde sings, plays and speaks. One, Four Songs Lost In A Wall, was originally produced for "New American Radio Series" on American Public Radio and tells the tale of a loner with fantastical delusions, taking the listener on a journey inside Carlo’s mind. On this piece, Rinde plays sings, piano, organ & baritone horn. On the other, Three Days In the Sun, Rinde is backed by the “heavy, blues-based fire and airy rhythms of Jerry Granelli and UFB” (People Magazine). On it Rinde sings, plays a ten-string slide guitar, harmonica, and a pipe en route to illustrating three days of adventures while hitchhiking across the United States. The bluesy, rugged music sounds much like the American west itself.

In 1990, Eckert and producer Townsend assembled The Compleat Strangers, to perform his original and multi-faceted music. The group was described as "not exactly a rock 'n' roll band, but a kind of international roots / country and western / gospel / art music band" (San Francisco Bay Guardian). His debut recording, Finding My Way Home (DIW, 1992), featured his original compositions as well as contemporary re-workings of traditional folk songs. "His songs range from pop and country to Celtic Blues and medieval chanting and the eight pieces hinge on the metaphor of a physical and spiritual pilgrimage" (Pulse). It can also be seen as a series of musical vignettes and encounters with a number Rinde's performance characters. In addition to the Compleat Strangers, guests Bill Frisell, fiddler Suzy Thompson and drummer Jerry Granelli appear on the album.

On his second CD, Do the Day Over (City of Tribes, 1995), Eckert's musical travels begin in the sanctuary of the churches, but he soon departs down roads and rivers through songs and soundscapes that resonate with echoes of the heartland. It's a journey through our hopes and longings, darknesses and sorrows, conflicts and dances - and in the end he settles simply for love. "Supported by his sensitive backing band, the Compleat Strangers, Eckert's second album is full of accessible melodies and emotive singing, with just a touch of eccentricity to make it tasty." (The Oakland Tribune).

More recently Rinde has enjoyed substantial success in a number of celebrated new musical theatre pieces. His newest project will be a touring theatre/opera production set to debut in fall 2005, entitled Horizon.

The American Repertory Theatre commissioned and produced Highway Ulysses, a full-evening opera conceived and written for a major theatre company. Directed by ART artistic director Robert Woodruff, Highway Ulysses has a cast of eight, including Eckert, with music performed by the Empty House Cooperative. It won the Norton Award for Best New Play in Boston.

In 2000, his production of "And God Created Great Whales", created quite a stir. It is a
music theater piece about a gifted composer on a quest to finish his opus - an opera based on Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. "Total magic is what Mr. Eckert delivers. He has the gift of writing both words and music very well, and from one moment to the next for 75 intense minutes he delightfully subverts every expectation he arouses…. He has a command of gesture that lets him fly from fear to fury and from dancing to dying in an instant…. And his singing, whether in falsetto or baritone, can be thrilling…. There is a constant sense of opening up intellectually, emotionally and visually." New York Times (June 2000)

"One of the most strikingly original works to be seen in New York in quite a while…. Nathan is brilliantly played by composer / performance artist Eckert. Eckert creates a piece of theater that is able to touch the heart as well as engage the mind. It is an intriguing and often funny evening." Billboard (September 2000)

"Mr. Eckert is mocking operatic conventions, but he is also teasing Melville.... The jokes are fun. But in the end one is overwhelmed by the power of quest and loss and by the beauty of the music." New York Times (September 2000)

Rinde continues to be a much sought-after soloist and featured performer with a variety of collaborators. He recently appeared in Joe Hill, a piece by composer Wayne Horvitz for chamber orchestra, vocalists and guitar soloist, performing with Robin Holcomb, Danny Barnes, Bill Frisell and the Seattle Chamber Players. He had the lead role in the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s touring production of Ravenshead, a two-act opera by composer Steve Mackey for which Rinde wrote the libretto. He also performs his solo theatre piece Romeo Sierra Tango – a musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which was commissioned by the New York Public Theatre and premiered there in 1999. The Idiot Variations, which premiered at Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa in January, 1995, is a combination of music, song and narrative, which finds Eckert making his desultory way through an only slightly bewildering array of recognizable fools. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune called it "A weirdly stunning adventure of imagination and stagecraft ... out of the mists, the sheer power of the poet is capable of sweeping us away."

In 1992, Rinde premiered his performance work, The Gardening of Thomas D. The piece, which takes its inspiration from Dante's Divine Comedy, was described by the Iowa City Press-Citizen as having "an undeniable thread of truth...There is no pretension here - only brilliance". Dry Land Divine, which is still occasionally performed and Quit This House, are his earlier solo works for stage (both 1988). Shoot the Moving Things (1987) and Four Songs Lost in a Wall (1995), both radio musicals, have been featured on the "New American Radio Series" on American Public Radio.

As writer/performer in the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Rinde has written the text and collaborated in the creation of Awed Behavior (1993), Slow Fire (1985/86), Power Failure (1989) and Pioneer (1990), the Ensemble's contemporary music theater works. Eckert and Dresher also collaborated with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company on Shelf Life (1987). They received an Isadora Duncan Award for their score for this piece. Shorebirds Atlantic (1987), Rinde's collaborative duet for the stage with Ms. Jenkins, was adapted for PBS' "Alive From Off Center" video series in 1989. Woman Window Square (1990) was created in collaboration with the Jenkins Dance Company and video director John Sanborn. In 1990, Rinde appeared again on "Alive From Off Center" in a video by Mr. Sanborn. Other collaborations include Secret House (1989) with the Oberlin Dance Company, Dresher and Jay Cloidt and Not For Real (1987), written and directed for Leonard Pitt. He was also the featured performer in Bruce Nauman's video installation entitled Anthro/Socio, which was part of the "Dislocations" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1993.

"Jack of all Stage Arts. Mr. Eckert is a singer, moving from tenor to countertenor to all manner of post-modernist vocal sound effects. He is also an instrumentalist (trombone, accordion, harmonica and percussion with keyboard). He is a poet whose texts transcend the jejune rhapsodies often achieved by multimedia performance artists. And he is a more than usually compelling mover. Eckert is an American loner-eccentric, with touches of Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Becket and Tom Waits. Laurie Anderson is evoked not just by the strength of his work in this solo performance-art genre, but also by the use of technological devices that alter his vocal timbre and by the high polish of the production as a whole." (New York Times)

Rinde lives in New York.

February 2006 New York Times article
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