Seattle a cappella trio fasten with pins leads a "sound salon" at the Rendezvous.

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Concert Review |

It’s a lovely idea — and a cozy setting.

“In the Bleak of Winter, Sundays” is an evening hosted by a new Seattle a cappella trio that performs along with two invited guest acts. The trio’s name is fasten with pins (spelled entirely in lowercase, says singer Arni Adler, because they don’t want to make too much of themselves). And the venue is the Rendezvous’ intimate Jewelbox Theater, a local gem from the 1920s that seats 60.

Here you get to listen to fresh, experimental work at pleasantly low volume, while a waitress (who keeps her own sound-level to an admirably discreet hush) brings you drinks. The talent onstage last Sunday was polished, the performances spontaneous in feel.

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The repertoire of fasten with pins ranges from traditional tunes to work by songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Mark Knopfler and T Bone Burnett. It’s the trio’s arrangements — by Adler and her collaborators Nova Devonie and Robin Holcomb — that make the fare so unusual. Tricky changes in key and tempo put a special stamp on the songs, sometimes to humorous effect, sometimes with results that are more eerie.

“Deep Blue Sea” — an old folk song about watery deaths, recently popularized by alternative band Grizzly Bear — is a case in point. The three women take the first two verses straight, in close harmonies. But on their third pass through, two voices start to fluctuate in a ripple effect while a third keeps carrying the tune, until you can almost see the fatally seductive pattern of those waves emerge from the timbre of their voices.

The trio comes with quite a musical pedigree. Adler performs with Uncle Bonsai. Devonie used to be with Ranch Romance and now constitutes one half of Miles and Karina. Holcomb has enjoyed an illustrious solo career and made noteworthy appearances with her husband Wayne Horvitz.

Joining fasten with pins last Sunday were singer-raconteur Jo Miller and accordion quartet Hell’s Bellows, featuring Scott Adams, Marchette DuBoi, Eli Kaufman and multi-instrumentalist-around-town Amy Denio. Miller (Ranch Romance, Jo Miller and Her Burly Roughnecks) shared memories of her wastrel father and her own wild doings at a dance-bar in Mexico, then broke into twangy song with some fine assistance from guitarist Del Rey. Hell’s Bellows, dressed as if they’d blown in from the snowy steppes of Russia (or the slushy wastes of Belltown’s Second Avenue), served up a goulash of stretched, spun and syncopated notes, sometimes festooned with vocal harmonies. At one point, they seemed to be the accordion’s answer to minimalist pioneer Steve Reich. Devonie closed the evening with the hope that fasten with pins can host “similar sound salons” in the near future. They already have one lined up for Sunday, with the Tallboys and Coty Hogue — both bluegrass-flavored acts — as guests. More Rendezvous concerts hosted by fasten with pins are planned for February and March. Check for details.

Michael Upchurch:

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