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The eleventh installment of Undercurrents begins Thursday night, and a number of local bands will perform, including familiar acts such as B.E. Mann, C.D. Truth, Ivet, Omegacell, Al's Fast Freight, and the TwistOffs. One Cleveland name on the schedule has never appeared in any local club listings or marquees. James Greiner, a multi-instrumentalist with a classical background, performs solo at the Red Star Cafe Saturday, May 22, at 8:30 p.m.

Though he graduated from Baldwin-Wallace with a degree in composition, Greiner won't dazzle the coffeehouse crowd with his dexterity on the piano (which he's played since he was five years old) or his appreciation for classical giants like Beethoven and Mozart. Instead Greiner will play pop-rock songs he's been writing and recording at MetroSync studios.

Greiner is not a total stranger to the local club scene. He formed the alternative band Round in 1995, which played a handful of shows around town before breaking up. He also plays in two cover bands, Popgun and Rock Shop. Undercurrents, though, marks his first attempt as a solo artist.

In 1996 Greiner released a cassette of his classical work, Piano Compositions. He returned to pop music when he realized that living, breathing composers have about as good a chance of catching the ear of symphony conductors as do lunatic street preachers. "The pop-rock industry focuses on people who are alive and what they're doing today," Greiner says, "while the classical world focuses on people in the past."

Greiner lives in a spartan efficiency in the Warehouse District. Except for the keyboard and microphone stand set up in the middle of the room, the apartment has the feel of a business traveler's hotel room. "I'd like to get pictures in here or something," he says, motioning to the bare, white walls.

He supports himself by teaching piano at Graves Piano & Organ in the afternoons and evenings. The rest of the time is his to write, record, work on a book of essays he hopes to publish, and play in the cover bands. At first, Greiner was reluctant to admit that he played in a cover band, but he admits that the experience has helped him become a better songwriter. "I've learned a lot," he says. "I can't knock being in a cover band. I've learned a lot about writing doing other people's songs."

Indeed, he has. A demo tape of the work he's done at MetroSync shows Greiner (he plays most of the instruments himself) is quite handy with pop-rock songs. "Faker" is the kind of tune Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner lost the ability to write when he started hanging out with Winona Ryder. The keyboard-based "You Are Free" recalls John Lennon. "I just want to have a purpose with whatever I do," he says. "I look at John Lennon and Bob Dylan, and their art has a purpose to it."

Greiner talks about his songs as if they were children that shouldn't have been sent into the world without mittens and scarves. Even though he will perform at Undercurrents solo, his heroes are songwriters like Lennon and McCartney, Pete Townshend, and David Bowie--all of whom were able to fit an idea into the full band context. "To me," Greiner says, "it isn't what form it takes on. What matters is the song . . . To have a great song you need chord changes, rhythm, melody, attitude. The recording needs to be done well. You need talented musicians. And you need to do it artistically."

Sounds like a no-brainer--until you think about how many performers neglect one or more of the elements.

*****
Writer/director Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Jerry Maguire) is making a rock-and-roll movie. Some scenes from the film are set in Cleveland, but the principal cast and crew will not be shooting in Northeast Ohio.

The movie is about a fictional rock band on tour in 1973. The studio, DreamWorks, asked WMMS Art Director Brian Chalmers for station artwork from the period, which he provided, as well tapes of radio broadcasts, local advertisements, and back issues of Scene. A DreamWorks employee confirms that any filming in Cleveland--building exteriors and whatnot--will be done with a secondary unit.

The as-yet-untitled film begins shooting next week and should be released in December. It stars Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Kate Hudson, Bijou Phillips, and Anna Paquin.

*****
Junkman has its CD release party at the Thunderdome Saturday, May 22. The six-song disc is titled The Whole Dog and Pony Show. The band also has a new drummer, Frank Garisto.

More by David W. Martin

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