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May 24, 2010

Kenny Kosek and Matt Glaser - Hasty Lonesome

Boy, once I get started on a theme I can't stop! Especially when it involves newgrass players, because every time I look at one it leads me to another. These guys have been in the scene since the Country Cooking days, and show up on all the other guys' projects (Statman, Trischka, Barenberg, etc.) This next album is on some people's top-10 New Acoustic albums of all time. Very original, very sparkling, very out-of-print. All the names which should be familiar to you by now stop in to lend their wildly imaginative hands to the task of making original acoustic music.

The name Kenny Kosek may seem unfamiliar to you. His is a case of someone whose fiddling has been heard by nearly everyone but his name by only a precious few. But those who've heard his playing beyond his relatively anonymous work for advertising jingles and Broadway musicals know Kosek as one of the core members of a group of New York-based innovators in the area of progressive bluegrass music since the 1970s. Up until now, most of his more prominent recorded legacy has been with the trailblazing bands Breakfast Special and Country Cooking, as well as his out-of-print Rounder LP collaboration with swing fiddler Matt Glaser, Hasty Lonesome.

Kenny Kosek is one of the most recorded fiddlers in America today, having been the feature soloist on hundreds of albums, soundtracks, and jingles. He can be heard on recordings by James Taylor, Jerry Garcia, David Byrne, Chaka Kahn, Willie Nelson, and John Denver. He has been a frequent guest player with the Late Night Band on Late Night with David Letterman. Kenny's distinctive roots music-inspired compositions have been used in the documentaries The Way West, The Donner Party, Harlan County, U.S.A., The High Lonesome Sound, and the Broadway musicals Big River and Foxfire, NBC's Another World, CBS's Guiding Light, and Fox's Kirby Kids. His most recent CD, Angelwood on Rounder Records was called "a lovely piece of work with a strong hint of the spiritual" (David Hinkley, Daily News); "an album that will surprise and delight fans of fiddle music in all its many forms" (Bluegrass Unlimited); and "Kosek's signature sound—a swinging, smooth, and creamy hot rise that is as hard as it rocks, has exponentially enhanced every project he's lent it to" (Village Voice).

Matt Glaser is the only tenured professor of violin in the United States who specializes in jazz, folk and swing instead of classical music. Matt has appeared on over thirty recordings, is the head of the string department at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and co-authored the book "Jazz Violin" with legendary jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Violinist Matt Glaser tells a Groucho Marx joke one minute and quotes mystic Sufi poet Rumi the next. He’s a dedicated jazz educator and musician, who believes music is capable of expressing every shade of human experience. As the chairman of the string department of Berklee for the last 20 years, Glaser tries to break down musical barriers with the zeal of a missionary every chance he gets. His new album, Shifting Sands of Time (Rounder), with the Wayfaring Strangers, does just that, organically bringing together bluegrass, jazz and klezmer with a surprising combination of musicians and material.

As an educator, Glaser often lectures on seemingly disparate connections between jazz luminaries and visual and literary artists such as Lester Young/Paul Klee/Emily Dickinson or Sonny Rollins/Jackson Pollack/Walt Whitman, exploring similar bents across artistic styles. Glaser is interested in grand themes, something he shares with his friend, film director Ken Burns.

“Jazz by Ken Burns is horribly flawed and great and beautiful at the same time,” says Glaser, who is a featured talking head in the film. During the making of Jazz, Glaser suggested, to no avail, that Burns include 50 additional musicians such as Chick Corea, Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Albert Ayler, Pat Metheny and Freddie Hubbard. “We discussed it, but Ken wanted a narrative thrust telling a few stories. It was not meant to be inclusive, but as an introduction for 37 million Americans to jazz. I’m proud it doubled jazz record sales,” Glaser says, in spite of residual frustration.

As a violinist, Glaser has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the White House, but he is most comfortable playing swing tunes with an existential viewpoint.

“Music for the ultimate situation is no longer so abstract. Music has to increase its power to heal; it’s needed now,” says Glaser. He’s drawn to the chanting of the Koran and the Vedas as well as Bach and the traditional “The Wayfaring Stranger.” At home in Cambridge, Mass., he’s listening to Marty Ehrlich’s Soujourn (Tzadik), George Jones’ Cold Hard Truth (Elektra/Asylum) and Joe Lovano’s Trio Fascination (Blue Note). This mix is par for the course for someone who grew up with an opera singer mother (who’s recently enjoying hip-hop) and listened to his father’s extensive jazz collection, and later studied ethnomusicology.

Glaser is a passionate educator. He’s written four books, including Jazz Violin (Oak) with Stephane Grappelli and Jazz Chord Studies for Violin (Berklee Press) with Joe Viola. But he’s more drawn to ideas rather than information. “I don’t have an anti-fact approach, but there are other ways of grasping things—metaphors, analogies and intuition. Ideas can be transformative and toxic.” Paraphrasing Theodore Roszak’s book Cult of Information (University of California Press), Glaser says we live in a world saturated with information, but not ideas. He’s fond of speaking about Louis Armstrong in the same breath as Albert Einstein and quick to find common ground and parallels between artists, eschewing divisiveness, especially in the jazz world. “In light of recent events [just after the terrorist attacks on America] all jazz musicians should feel connected to each other, rather than divided,“ he pleads.

Asked about future plans and dreams, there is no mention of new albums or gigs. Instead he speaks about practicing, learning and growing as a musician. His mission is to glorify musicians of all sorts.

“Music is not about facts; it’s about life, death, human transcendence and beauty.”

Kenny Kosek and Matt Glaser - Hasty Lonesome

Year: 1980
Label: Rounder Records [0127]

Recorded and mixed at Skyline Studios, NYC

Side A:
01 - Hasty Lonesome
02 - Le Chamoix Cornu
03 - K-Town Fling
Side B:
04 - Lonesome Fiddle Blues
05 - Deep Elum Blues
06 - B-Fiddle Medley (The Fiddler, Flies in The Whiskey, Bing Bong The Sailor)
07 - Marx Brothers Medley

Bass - Roger Mason (A1,A3,B1, B3) Marty Confurius (A2,B4) Nick Forster (B2)
Guitar - Russ Barenberg (A1,A3,B1,B3) Richard Lieberson (A2,B4) Bill Bachman (A2,B4) Charles Sawtelle (B2)
Mandolin - Andy Statman (A1,A2,A3,B1,B3) Tim O'Brien (B2)
Banjo - Marty Cutler (A1,A2,A3,B1) Tony Trischka (A1,A3,B3) Peter Wernick (B2) Alan Feldman (B3)
Drums - richard Crooks (A2,B1,B4)
Clarinet - Andy Statman (A1)
Electric Guitar - Jon Scholle (B2)
Bodhran - Alice Olwell (B3)

a quick goodbye.
vinyl | mp3 320kbps | w/o cover

and of course if you want to help this pirate along in his quest for musical goodies, he's looking for the following Kosek/Glaser-related albums:
Breakfast Special - Breakfast Special
Kenny Kosek - Angelwood
Matt Glaser - Play Fiddle Play: Jazz Violin Classics
Fiddle Fever - anything except Best Of
Stacy Phillips - anything

May 22, 2010

Rob Wasserman - Solo

And another Grisman bass player's album from 1983!

There is just something so incredible about a good bass player. They root the music, giving it a foundation in the pulsating rhythms of the Earth, and if they're good they can let it fly too, painting pictures with the dark patches between the stars. There is something so primal about the way the bass ebbs and flows, the way it pulls up the animal energy from down below, gets you drunk on pure sound. This album is all about pure sound. And if you drink it up, you will go dancing between the stars. There is really no way to describe it in ordinary words. Did you ever listen to Tom Cora? This has the same adventurous beauty, but lacks the harshness. Come on. Drink! It's like technicolor chocolate dripping down your throat, like musical honey from seaworthy bees. It's like having sex in slow motion. Molasses in excstasy. Go on. You love it. Drink it up!

Biography by Scott Yanow

A very versatile bassist, Rob Wasserman has gained fame for his trilogy of recording projects accurately titled Solo, Duets, and Trios. Wasserman began playing the violin when he was 12, not switching to bass until he was already 20. Within a year he was studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and playing with drummer Charles Moffett. The classical training he had received on violin, plus owning a very open mind have both frequently come in handy throughout his career. Wasserman picked up early experience working with Dan Hicks, Maria Muldaur, Van Morrison, and Oingo Boingo. In 1983, he recorded Solo for Rounder which received very strong reviews. Soon afterward, Wasserman became a longtime member of David Grisman's group and has also had lengthy stints with Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, and the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir. Duets in 1988 matched Wasserman with seven very diverse singers (including Bobby McFerrin, Rickie Lee Jones, Cheryl Benyne, and Lou Reed) and violinist Stéphane Grappelli. 1993's Trios has appearances by such performers as Jerry Garcia, Brian and Carnie Wilson, Willie Dixon, Branford Marsalis, and Elvis Costello among others. Although he has worked throughout much of his career as a featured sideman, Rob Wasserman's three recordings as a leader are his most notable musical accomplishments thus far. The space rock influenced Space Island blasted off in late 2000, exploring new textures and incorporating hip-hop and electronic elements. He spent the next several years playing with Ratdog and appearing with Gov't Mule and Rickie Lee Jones before returning to solo work and releasing Cosmic Farm, a fusion date featuring guitarist Craig Erickson, T. Lavitz on keys, and Jeff Sipe on drums.

About Rob Wasserman

Precious few musicians demonstrate the scope to be dubbed renaissance men, but Rob Wasserman has more than earned the title. His daunting versatility has made him one of the last two decade's most in-demand bassists -- as demonstrated by recording and touring stints with Lou Reed, Van Morrison, and Elvis Costello. His longtime creative partnership with Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir have yielded a trove of fertile sounds. And, last but far from least, the albums issued under his own name have won awards from sources in the jazz, pop and rock fields. That acclaim has much to do with Wasserman's unflagging devotion to artistic purity and the value of real musicianship. Trained at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, he developed a style of upright bass playing that he likens to cello, more than standard bass methodology. He's put that ability to the test in a variety of contexts over the years, most notably on a series of three albums -- SOLO, DUETS, and TRIOS -- that demonstrate his unparalleled knack for making his voice heard without shouting, for allowing the collaborative process to flower to its fullest That trilogy began with the release of SOLO, an album completed with the support of an NEA Composer's Fellowship. Although already widely respected as a player -- collaborating with artists as varied as Stephane Grappelli and Rickie Lee Jones -- Wasserman far exceeded expectations of what a solo bass album could deliver, garnering acclaim in a number of venues, including Downbeat, which voted his debut Jazz Album of the Year and voted him Bassist and Composer of the Year. On the Grammy-winning DUETS (named Vocal Album of the Year by Billboard) Wasserman's collaborators included Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, Bobby McFerrin, and others. While that album put the bassist's interpretive skills to work on standards spanning a full half century of American music, it merely set the stage for Wasserman's release, TRIOS, an album dubbed "dazzling" by Rolling Stone and granted a rare five-star rating by Downbeat. TRIOS brought together artists like Jerry Garcia & Edie Brickell, Bruce Hornsby & Branford Marsalis, Neil Young and Bob Weir, Elvis Costello and Marc Ribot, Brian & Carnie Wilson (produced by Don Was), and the late Willie Dixon (in his last recorded appearance), to perform a set of original material. "I never considered myself a sideman, since I was always involved in the creative process says Wasserman, "My nature is that I love to play this instrument but I won't be limited by it. I don't sing much, can't play drums, can't play guitar, so I have to say everything I would say with those instruments through the bass. Another addition to the Rob Wasserman catalog, “Space Island” (Atlantic Records) broke new barriers for him as he teamed up with master mixer/producer Dave Aron (Snoop Dogg, Prince) to create a bass groove record with a hip hop rhythm. The record features drummer Stephen Perkins (Jane’s Addiction), scratcher DJ Jam (Dr. Dre) and other special guests. Billboard called it “ of the most kinetically fun albums of the year.” Wasserman has consistently proven he isn't shy about stretching the limits of his chosen instrument. Having worked on the designs for a number of new basses including, with guitar wizard Ned Steinberger, a revolutionary six-string electric upright bass, he's turned his attentions of late to creating new sounds on his basses with the help of the latest effects technology. Not that such endeavors have taken Wasserman's attention from his myriad of other projects. He served as a collaborator with and as a member of Lou Reed’s band from 1988 to 1995, and re-joined Lou’s band in 2006. Another creative partner is dance choreographer Mark Morris, who Wasserman collaborated with to develop and present “Dances to American Music” which world-premiered at Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, and then toured the U.S. and Europe. Wasserman has balanced such rather high-toned pursuits with projects like RatDog, the band he and longtime partner Bob Weir assembled after touring as a successful duo for ten years. Arista Records released Weir/Wasserman Live, a collection of the duo’s hottest live performances and followed that with RatDog’s debut studio recording, “Evening Moods.” In tandem with Grateful Dead Merchandise, Rob formed his own label, Rare Wasserman Records. Released were DUA, an album of original improvisations with world master sarengi player Ustad Sultan Khan, and BASSICALLY ME, a new collection of solo bass compositions. As a featured part of all Weir/Wasserman and RatDog concerts for fifteen years, Rob presented solo bass to enthusiastic acclaim. He has since begun an expanded performance schedule that features solo bass on tour with Lou Reed, DJ Spooky, Particle, John Popper, and DJ Logic, among others. Rounder Records has released “TRILOGY” – SOLO, DUETS, and TRIOS brought together for the first time as a three cd boxed set. The package features new notes and commentary by Rob and several of his collaborators, as well as 24 bit re-mastering by Joe Gastwirt. Rob is presently recording and producing his next cd, “My Name Is New York” to be released in 2009. A collaborative project with The Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archive, it features Rob in duet with an incredible cast of singers interpreting unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics. Recorded so far are Ani di Franco, Lou Reed, Chris Whitley, Michael Franti, Pete Seeger, Nellie McKay, Studs Terkel, Keren Anne and Kevin Hearn-- More unique collaborations will complete the project. Some of Rob's recorded work with other artists: David Grisman Quintet - "Quintet '80" (Warner Bros.) David Grisman/Stephane Grappelli - "Live" (Elektra) David Grisman Quintet - "Acousticity" (MCA) Van Morrison - "Beautiful Visions" (Warner Brothers) Rickie Lee Jones - "Flying Cowboys" (Geffen) Lou Reed - "New York" (Sire/Reprise) Elvis Costello - "Mighty Like A Rose" (Warner Bros.) Lou Reed - "Magic & Loss" (Sire/Reprise) Rickie Lee Jones - "Naked Songs " (Geffen) Bruce Cockburn - "The Charity Of Night" (Ryko) Banyan - (CyberOctave) Ratdog - "Evening Moods" (BMG/Arista) Ratdog - "Live at Roseland" (BMG/Arista) Ustad Sultan Khan - "Dua" (Rare Wasserman Records) Les Claypool - "5 Gallons of Diesel" (Prawn Song Records) Hal Willner - "Sea Shanteys" (Anti-) Lou Reed - "Berlin" (The Weinstein Company)

Rob Wasserman - Solo

Year: 1983
Label: Rounder
Genre: New Acoustic; Jazz; Experimental

Review by Ron Wynn

Since bassist Rob Wasserman recently had a much-discussed session on the market, it's not surprising Rounder would rush this 13-cut collection recorded in 1982 from the vaults. This one is a superior work in terms of showcasing Wasserman's attributes, which include a huge tone, excellent compatibility and versatility, and tremendous overall skills. His talents were well displayed; he covers all the bases from bop to light fusion. He wrote every piece except "Lady Be Good," and while they're all short (none four minutes long and several less than three), he always manages to play a nifty phrase, elegant line or intricate passage. If you'd prefer a less bombastic, hyped example of Rob Wasserman's music, here's the ideal ticket.

1 Thirteen - Wasserman - 2:50
2 Lima Twist - Wasserman - 3:46
3 Sunway - Wasserman - 2:17
4 Punk Sizzle - Wasserman - 1:46
5 Clare - Wasserman - :54
6 Oh, Lady Be Good - Gershwin, Gershwin - 2:05
7 Strumming - Wasserman - 1:50
8 Bass Blue - Wasserman - 2:22
9 Bass Space - Wasserman - 3:11
10 April Aire - Wasserman - 2:19
11 Freedom Bass Dance - Wasserman - 1:37
12 Ode to Casals - Wasserman - 3:57
13 Sara's Rainbow Dong - Wasserman - 1:56

blue space.
vinyl, cleaned | mp3 >192kbps vbr | small cover | 51mb

as as per usual, I'm looking for a couple: Basically Me and his duet with Ustad Sultan Khan, 'Dua'

May 21, 2010

Todd Phillips - Released

Another spotlight on a pioneer of Newgrass / New Acoustic music. We've left Country Cooking now and are working back throught the members of the David Grisman Quintet.

This is a very OPEN record. What does that mean? It means that there's no hole in which to pidgeon it, no box to hold it, no label to bear it. Definitely not bluegrass, though there's hints of that in the stellar dobro of Jerry Douglas arcing across 'Nardis'. And it's not quite jazz either, as Tony Rice's guitar will let you know as he burns through the same. But though there's no handle to hang it by, the album is immediatly accessible, warm and beautiful. It is open because it doesn't take you to any foregone conclusions. You may be able to figure out where it came from (i.e. roots), but damned if you can tell where it's going. It's open because you can walk in and out of the music and still be a part of it. The train does not leave at 3:18, and it doesn't travel on a straight line. This music is a river, and it splits and comes back together, just as it caresses the boundaries and slowly erodes them. And it's never the same, even though it follows a pattern - new and renewed sounds bubble forth and linger for a moment before disolving into the ear. It will take your troubles, this river. Take your thoughts and worries. You cannot fight this river. Bathe in it, naked. Immerse yourself in the sweet fresh watery grip of this music and lay down, naked, released.

Bassist Todd Phillips’ musical pedigree is unbeatable. He staked his claim in musical history in 1975 as a member of the original Dave Grisman Quintet. He has performed and recorded with some of acoustic music’s most influential artists, including John Gorka, Montreux and Psychograss. On his latest solo album Timeframe, Phillips establishes himself as a multi-instrumentalist and composer capable of blending diverse influences into a seamless musical statement.

Phillips was born in San Jose, California in 1953. He began playing electric bass at age 11 and had his first professional studio recording experience when he was 15. Around the time that he graduated from high school he began playing the acoustic bass and developed an interest in bluegrass and jazz.

Soon afterwards, Phillips began studying with mandolinist David Grisman. This relationship quickly led to his involvement in the development of the original David Grisman Quintet. During his tenure with the group, Phillips had the opportunity to work with many well-known acoustic instrumentalists including Stephane Grappelli,Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, Tony Rice and Richard Greene. He credits the experience as having had tremendous influence on his musical growth. In particular, he says: "Spending so much time with Grisman when I was young both twisted and widened my perspectives (in a creative way) about all music."

In 1984, Phillips recorded his first solo album Released which received critical acclaim. Billboard Magazine wrote: "Todd Phillips makes a winning new acoustic frontman." The San Francisco Bay Guardian heralded Phillips as "one of the most meticulous and musically focused artists of the new acoustic musicmovement." Phillips was also the 5-time recipient of the Frets Magazine readers’ poll award for Best Jazz and Bluegrass Bassist Grammy Award for his work with JD Crowe and the New South.

Throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s, Phillips continued to be involved in a variety of projects. Together with musical associates Mike Marshall and Darol Anger from the David Grisman Quintet, Phillips formed the eclectic jazzgrass group Psychograss. Theband recorded one album for Windham Hill which furthered their individual reputations as leading innovators in new acoustic music. Phillips also continued to build a successful career as a sessionmusician and appeared on dozens of recording projects including records by Alex de Grassi, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas and Tony Trischka.

In 1991, Phillips began composing and arranging music for Timeframe.His goal was to write, arrange and record in a way that incorporated as much of what he loves about music as possible. The end result is what Phillips labels a "musical hybrid" - a sound that is at once reminiscent of the west coast "cool jazz"scene, the bachelor pad sound, and the new acoustic movement, and draws inspiration from sources as unlikely as Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Steely Dan, Joseph Haydn and Bill Monroe. Together with reed master Paul McCandless (Oregon), violinist Darol Anger (Turtle Island String Quartet), Joe Caploe on vibes and drummer Paul van Wageningen, Phillips delivers a focused and assured take on acoustic jazz which the Nashville Scene described as "music that’s both accessible and beautiful while remaining constantly surprising and fresh."

Biography by Craig Harris

Todd Phillips has revolutionized the role of the bass in bluegrass music. A founding member, along with Tony Rice, Darol Anger and Joe Carroll, of the innovative David Grisman Quintet, Phillips has gone on to play with such progressive bands as J.D. Crowe & The New South, Psychograss, Montreaux, The Bluegrass Album Band and Kathy Kallick's Little Big Band. A five time winner of the readers' poll conducted by Frets magazine and a two-time Grammy winner, Phillips has been as effective a jazz bassist as he is playing bluegrass. Phillips' three solo albums

In The Pines, Released and Time Frame -- have blended influences ranging from Bill Monroe to Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

Phillips' first instrument was the electric bass, which he began playing at the age of eleven. By the age of fifteen, Phillips was proficient enough on the instrument to make his recording debut. During his senior year of high school, Phillips became enchanted by bluegrass and jazz and switched to the acoustic, stand-up, bass.

Soon after meeting mandolinist David Grisman, Phillips began taking lessons on the mandolin. Jam sessions on Grisman's back porch soon evolved into the Grisman Quintet. Phillips remained with the group for five years.

Together with Tony Rice, Bobby Hicks, Doyle Lawson and J.D. Crowe, Phillips launched The Bluegrass Album Band in 1980. Phillips was also a founding member of Montreaux and Psychograss. In addition to playing bass on more than fifty recordings, Phillips produced two albums by Kathy Kallick. Since 1995, Phillips has worked, along with guitarist John Reissman, in Kallick's Little Big Band; in 1999, he teamed with guitarist David Grier and mandolininst Matt Flinner for Phillips, Grier & Flinner.

Interview by Richard Johnston

“My all-time favorite is Todd Phillips,” proclaimed Union Station bassist Barry Bales in April ’05. “He brought a completely different way of thinking about and playing bluegrass—a really sustained kind of sound, great chops.”

Born in 1953, Todd grew up in San Jose, California, and picked up electric bass around age ten. He and his drumming brother Todd formed a band that started with basic rock & roll and went on to tackle tunes by Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Byrds, “taking me into more advanced harmonies, closer to bluegrass,” Phillips notes. Later in high school he gained his first exposure to jazz and bluegrass, leading him to switch to upright bass. After a few years’ experience playing bluegrass, he fell in with mandolin maven Grisman. “His record collection was phenomenal,” Phillips recalls. “Inside of a year I got a complete education on John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, all this stuff, and I was listening to [Bill Evans bassist] Scott LaFaro. I was also learning to play mandolin.”

The late LaFaro’s freewheeling accompaniment style continues to echo in Phillips’s work with Psychograss, whose all-star roster includes violinist Darol Anger, mandolinist Mike Marshall, guitarist David Grier, and banjoist Tony Trischka. On the band’s recent Now Hear This, Phillips peppers the raggy “Stroll of the Mudbug” with double-stop accents and raked/pull-off fills, and he gives “Road to Hope” a jazz-ballad treatment with well-placed pickup notes and passing tones. “One Foot in the Gutter” finds Phillips laying down a percolating pedal-tone funk groove, and amid the shifting time signatures and angular chord changes of “High Ham,” he maintains a solid bluegrass-bass feel adorned with upper-register flourishes and sliding fills. Throughout, Phillips’s German upright yields a big bluegrass-approved bottom end balanced by a singing upper register. “Because I played Precision Bass for ten years as a kid, when I first picked up an acoustic I had a tone reference in my head,” notes Phillips. “I wanted a full, little bit percussive sound.”

In addition to his current touring schedule with Psychograss, Laurie Lewis, and Phillips, Grier & Flinner, Phillips maintains a studio at his Northern California home, where he has been working on the latest in his substantial list of production credits: a Rounder Records tribute to folk singer Hazel Dickens. Phillips produced his three solo albums—the jazz-influenced Timeframe and Released [out of print] and the tradition-steeped In the Pines—as well as the Grammy-winning True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe. He has shared his instrumental insights in the two-volume video Essential Techniques for Acoustic Bass.

When you were getting solid footing as a bluegrass player, you were also listening to Scott LaFaro. Did that mess you up?

If you asked some real strict bluegrass players, it probably did. [Guitarist] Tony Rice loved Oscar Peterson, and I was listening to Bill Evans and John Coltrane, and we were playing with David Grisman, which was real energetic rhythmically. So, we had to tame ourselves down when we played straight bluegrass, but occasionally we would encourage each other to do some crazier things. I can hear the struggle sometimes in that music. “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” and “I Believe in You Darling” [from The Bluegrass Album Band Vol. 1] are good examples of how we played it very straight but also let the impulse of the moment enter into the music.

How did LaFaro’s playing influence yours?

I picked up syncopation—he wove this beautiful thing through the music—and I play syncopations in bluegrass that other people don’t.

What other different approaches do you take to bluegrass?

Using a few more notes—in regular bluegrass the bass player doesn’t use that many leading tones to the next chord. And I like to play with space, leaving notes hanging or skipping a beat. But there’s a misconception about how simple bluegrass bass is. To have that momentum without the drummer and get that feel is not as simple as it looks on paper. I think of it as a kind of Zen thing, a real meditation and a high focus on the rhythm. There’s no place to hide.

How do you develop the kind of time you need to carry a group without a drummer?

It’s something you’re born with, but it’s also something you can develop by listening. I remember always being drawn to the rhythmic element—I think that’s why I switched to mandolin for a while. I wanted to play on the other side of the beat.

Did that help your rhythm in general?

It helped it a lot—I got to know what it was like to be on that side of the band, and I understood chords better, which helped my bass playing. When I was playing mandolin, I would wish the bass player was playing more like this or that, so when I switched back, I knew better how to support the guitar and the mandolin.

Switching between bass and mandolin is pretty extreme.

It is weird! But I recently met another bass player who has taken up the mandolin—John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. He’s a bluegrass fan, and it’s even weirder to come from his world to bluegrass mandolin. At least I stayed in the same genre.

What about the physical adjustment going from mandolin to bass?

We did one tour with Grisman where I played bass in the bluegrass band that opened and then mandolin in his quintet. At that time I thought one helped the other, like doing different kinds of exercises. But today when I switch back to mandolin it’s just too small and quick. I have stronger, slower fingers now.

Your bass lines often feature techniques like slides, hammers, pulls, and ghost-notes.

A lot of that is creating my own reference points for the rhythm; instead of going thump thump thump, I might go ka-thump ka-thump ka-thump, with a rhythm built into the line. I think that’s so my right hand has a reference for the time—little mechanical motions that help me define where the next downbeat is going to be. It also helps me create momentum. And sometimes I’m just entertaining myself.

You vary your articulation a lot. Is that also a matter of defining your own rhythmic space?

It’s all part of making it musical. When I solo a bass track I’ve done, I hear all the different shapes of the bass notes—it’s not just thump and there it is. When a singer or guitar player does something, somehow I am shaping the note around that. It’s done with how quick or long the note is, or with a little vibrato or sliding into the pitch, that kind of stuff. But I don’t think about it.

Do you use classical left-hand technique, with the ring finger and pinkie working together?

I almost always skip the ring finger, but sometimes using it is unavoidable. I’m completely self-taught and I don’t read—I am really just a folk musician. I grew up on the Fender bass, and it was so big for me that I began to develop fairly proper left-hand technique on my own—I had to skip my ring finger and use my little finger just to get to the next fret. Somehow that applied when I switched to upright.

Do you do any specific warm-ups or exercises?

Every time I pick up the instrument I just try to get my pitch references back. I’ll locate the octaves, like a D note on the G string, and I’ll play notes closed [fingered] and reference them to open strings. I do that for a few minutes to get my ear and my hand connected. That’s about it.

Do you use a bow for pitch location?

I really don’t bow. I’ll do it on a record now and then, but I’m faking it. I might spend two hours to do one little passage.

As a bass player, what do you bring to the producer’s role?

Bass players have an overview of the whole ensemble, whereas the singer is focusing on the lyrics, the lead player is focused on his role, things like that. Since I’m playing a fretless bass I’m aware of pitch, plus I’m aware of the rhythm and the structure of the music. That serves me well when we’re recording and mixing. I think I have a good perspective on when we have a solid take, when the rhythm section’s good, when the singer’s on pitch—all that kind of stuff.

On the Hazel Dickens project you’re working with a lot of different singers.

It’s a whole different role—I play real minimally. When I got together with Joan Osborne I thought, Man, you’d better be on your best behavior! You want to do the right thing to make it work.

Todd Phillips - Released

Year: 1984
Label: Varrick

Review by Ken Dryden

Bassist Todd Phillips is well known as a first-rate sideman who's worked with David Grisman, Tony Rice, and many other greats of progressive bluegrass, so it isn't at all surprising that he has an equally wide-ranging taste on his own record dates. These sessions, made in 1981 and 1982 for Varrick, feature the leader in a dual role on mandolin and bass (frequently on the same track), joined by Rice on guitar, dobro player Jerry Douglas, Darol Anger (on octave violin), and John Reischman (heard on both octave mandolin and mandolin). Douglas is initially in the lead for the compelling treatment of Miles Davis' landmark modal masterpiece "Nardis," though Phillips (on both mandolin and bass) and Rice add brilliant though brief solos. Phillips' bass chops are best heard on John Coltrane's "Miles' Mode." The leader's originals measure up to anything that's available within progressive bluegrass. Highly recommended.

1 Fat Kid - Phillips - 3:46
2 Nardis - Davis - 4:12
3 Daniel's Dream - Phillips - 3:34
4 Redhill - Reischman - 3:12
5 Ants (On the Moon) - Phillips - 1:03
6 Alone - Phillips - 5:46
7 Released - Phillips - 5:15
8 T's Please - Carroll - 1:32
9 Miles' Mode - Coltrane - 4:57

bathe. naked. * new link 5-23-10
mp3 320kbps | w/ covers | 77mb

* out-of-print

and, by any chance, do any of you have his In the Pines or TimeFrame? I'd love to hear 'em!

May 19, 2010

Peter Rowan

Who can say what music really is? It's a formless energy that moves people. It's a good place to put your head. -Peter Rowan

Ok next in our series of progressive bluegrass-rooted musicians who helped to crete a new form of music from the 70's to the present. Peter Rowan. He wasn't in Country Cooking but he was in Muleskinner and I always meant to do a post on him. But what to say? To call him the best living singer in bluegrass would be a contentious but undeniable statement. Besides that he's a solid instrumentalist and a fantastic songwriter. The song 'Land of the Navajo' should go down in history as one of the most moving looks at the encounter between white people and Native Americans. I can't count the number of times it's brought me to tears. Others of his songs have gone on to become staples of the Americana genre. And like all these other artists, he's never stuck in a rut - always turning his musical itch to new sounds and cultures, from Tex-Mex to Folk to Flamenco to Reggae, he has certainly ventured far afield from the azure grassy fields of home. And once again, he makes it all sound natural. His every lyric and turn of phrase, his every vocal crack and quiver, each perfectly placed to match the draw of the song. And there is always a tint of heartache that colors each otherwise upbeat song, like the genuine heart of sadness that dwells within even the smiling giddy child. It is an ancient, universal heartbreak - an essential though unrecognized part of being human. And he sings this part to life, coaxes it out of the darkness and lets it speak. I don't just mean through his justly placed minor and diminished chords - it comes through every high straining moan and vocal inflection. Through this music, one hears, seemingly for the first time, an aching sorrow that has travelled in one's shadow all life long. And through the beauty of Peter's mournful clarion call and Richard Greene's incomprehensibly lifelike fiddle, one learns to walk side-by-side with this shadow, and maybe even do a Spanish halfstep with it.

Grammy-award winner and five-time Grammy nominee, Peter Rowan is a bluegrass singer-songwriter with a career spanning over five decades. From his early years playing under the tutelage of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe, and following his stint in Old & In the Way with Jerry Garcia and subsequent breakout as both a solo performer and bandleader, Rowan has built a devoted, international fan base through his continuous stream of original recordings, collaborative projects, and constant touring.

Born in Wayland, Massachusetts to a musical family, Rowan first learned to play guitar from his uncle. He spent his teenage years absorbing the sights and sounds of the Boston music scene, playing bluegrass at the Hillbilly Ranch and discovering folk and blues across the Charles River at the legendary Club 47 on Mt. Auburn Street in Cambridge. "I could sit in with the Lilly Brothers at the Hillbilly Ranch and then catch the MTA and be in time for Joan Baez's last set at the Club 47. Bluegrass appealed to me. It was callin' me—the harmonies, that high and lonesome calling-sound. Don Stover had played banjo with Bill Monroe, fiddler Tex Logan too, before they joined the Lillys. Mandolinist Joe Val taught me all the Blue Sky Boys and the Louvin Brothers songs. I would play a "sock-hop" with my rockin' group, The Cupids, and then make a beeline for the clubs. Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee, Josh White, Muddy Waters- they all came to town! "

Following three years in college, Rowan left academia to pursue a life in music. Rowan began his professional career in 1964 as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, living in Nashville and playing with Monroe on the Grand Ol' Opry every week. "One thing I liked about the Monroe style was that there was a lot more blues in it than other styles of bluegrass," reflects Rowan. "It was darker. It had more of an edge to it. And yet it still had the ballad tradition in it, and I loved that." Rowan stayed with Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, touring constantly both in the United States and in England, for two and a half years. " We went from old-timey places way down south to the colleges up north, we played to all ages, long-time fans of Bluegrass and the college kids my own age."

The late '60s and early 70's saw Rowan collaborating with musical compatriots in a number of rock, folk and bluegrass combinations: Earth Opera with David Grisman, Sea Train with fiddler Richard Greene (himself a graduate of Monroe's band) Muleskinner with both Grisman and Greene, former Bluegrass Boy banjoist Bill Keith and the great Clarence White. From the ashes of Muleskinner, Rowan and Grisman went on to join Jerry Garcia, Vassar Clements, and John Kahn, forming the legendary bluegrass band Old & In the Way. It was during this time that Rowan penned the song "Panama Red," a subsequent hit for the New Riders of the Purple Sage and a classic ever since. Other time-honored compositions by Rowan include " Moonlight Midnight", " In The Land of the Navajo" and "Lonesome L.A. Cowboy”. Jerry Garcia himself recorded Rowan's "Moonlight Midnight" and the haunting "Mississippi Moon". The 1970’s also saw Peter Rowan playing and recording alongside brothers Chris and Lorin Rowan as the The Rowan Brothers. Their three albums for Elektra-Asylum featured original songs highlighted by the three siblings soaring harmonies.

Rowan subsequently embarked on a well-received solo career in 1978, releasing such critically acclaimed records as Dustbowl Children (a Woody Guthrie style song cycle about humanity's spirituality in relationship to the earth), Yonder (a record of old-time country songs and Rowan originals in collaboration with ace dobro player, Jerry Douglas) and two extraordinarily fine bluegrass albums, The First Whippoorwill and Bluegrass Boy, as well as High Lonesome Cowboy, a recording of traditional old-time cowboy songs with Don Edwards and guitarist Norman Blake. Rowan's recent releases- Reggaebilly, a wonderful blend of reggae and bluegrass and Quartet, a recording with the phenomenal Tony Rice, coupled with a relentless touring schedule have further endeared Peter Rowan to audiences around the world.

On the road, Rowan performs internationally as a solo singer-songwriter, while stateside he plays in three bands: the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band, a quartet featuring Jody Stecher, Keith Little, and Paul Knight; The Peter Rowan & Tony Rice Quartet; and his rocking band, The Free Mexican Air Force.

Biography by Steve Huey

A major cult figure among progressive bluegrass aficionados, Peter Rowan participated in a number of adventurous projects in the late '60s and '70s before embarking on a highly productive solo career. Primarily a guitarist, Rowan also sang, yodeled, and played various members of the mandolin family. He was born in 1942 and grew up in Wayland, MA, near Boston; his parents and several relatives were musicians, and he and his brothers Chris and Lorin grew up playing both rock and bluegrass together. Rowan also formed a Tex-Mex band called the Cupids in high school, and after college he sang and played mandolin in the folk group the Mother Bay State Entertainers, whom he joined in 1963. He also played with Jim Rooney and Bill Keith, and in 1964 he joined Bill Monroe's legendary Blue Grass Boys as a vocalist and guitarist. He departed in 1967 to team up with mandolin virtuoso David Grisman in the eclectic, progressive-minded folk-rock band Earth Opera, who released two albums and often opened for the Doors. Rowan next moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and joined Seatrain, a bluegrass/rock hybrid outfit. He appeared on two albums over 1970-1971, then left to play with Jerry Garcia and Grisman in the bluegrass group Old & in the Way, also joining Grisman in Muleskinner.

In 1975, Rowan teamed with his brothers Chris and Lorin in the progressive bluegrass unit the Rowans, who released several acclaimed albums over the next few years. Rowan also performed with Flaco Jimenez in Mexican Airforce and issued his first two solo albums -- 1978's Peter Rowan and 1980's Medicine Trail -- on Flying Fish. He issued the Tex-Mex project Texican Badman on Appaloosa in 1981 as well as an album with his Nashville-based group, the Wild Stallions. 1982 brought The Walls of Time, the first in a long string of albums for the Sugar Hill label that lasted well into the '90s. Among the more notable, 1985's The First Whippoorwill was an affectionate tribute to Monroe, while 1988's New Moon Rising became the signature album of Rowan's solo career, featuring some of his most popular material. 1990's Dust Bowl Children was a completely solo performance, while 1991's All on a Rising Day continued his creative hot streak. Several more albums followed through 1996, including one, 1994's Tree on a Hill, that reunited him with Chris and Lorin; another, 1996's Yonder, paired him with dobro king Jerry Douglas for a set of duets. Rowan took a break from his solo career for a few years but continued to guest on albums by other artists, including the Czech folk group Druha Trava. He returned in 2002 with High Lonesome Cowboy, a collaborative effort with Don Edwards for Shanachie that also featured Tony Rice and Norman Blake. In 2004 Rowan released You Were There for Me, a long overdue collaboration with Tony Rice that resulted in another successful recording session in 2006 called Quartet. The Best of the Sugar Hill Years compilation followed in 2007.

Peter Rowan: Gather the Spirit
By Paul Kerr

Peter Rowan is a bluegrass living legend, lighting up the stage for over four decades as an evocative singer, propulsive guitarist and rock steady mandolin player. His countless musical explorations have led him through rock, folk, country and even reggae music. He was one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, formed a rock band with David Grisman that opened for The Doors in the late '60s and joined Old and In the Way with Jerry Garcia to get back to their bluegrass roots.

Rowan's recent travels brought him through Chapel Hill, North Carolina with an acoustic quartet featuring famed guitarist Tony Rice. JamBase sat down with Rowan before his concert for a wide-ranging conversation on politics, war, Garcia, Michael Franti and music as a healing force in the world.

JamBase: You've been playing with Tony Rice for a long time and decided to turn it into a quartet. What led to that decision?

Peter Rowan: About six or seven years ago [we] started being asked by different festivals to do workshops. I had known Tony for some years but we'd never really played together. He'd always had his own band and played with the David Grisman Quintet. People had told me Tony's approach was that he had to hear music a lot before he figured out how he would play on it. And I thought, "Well that doesn't sound like the Tony that I'm playing with." Because I would just write new songs and he would jump right in and find a part and work on it.

I think the timing was right for us to do these things together. We were both in between projects and there began to be a call for what we were doing. So, I enlisted some young players from Texas that I knew to come out and play bass and mandolin with us and it was pretty cool, and it's developed since then to be more of a quartet thing. We've done two albums. The first one's called You Were There For Me. It was recorded right around the 9/11 time. It kind of has a melancholy feel. The new one is a little more hard driving. It's called Quartet [released January 23, 2007 on Rounder]. It features all the people we've been playing with.

JamBase: 9/11 was a Tuesday and that's the day records usually get released. Was it among that batch?

Peter Rowan: No, the writing was being done around that time and the time leading up to it, the year before. Just a sense in the world of a deep, deep melancholy and sadness and then, of course, [it] all broke out in the 9/11 thing. What I was writing during those times [had] a sense of foreboding and melancholy. I wrote a song called "Shirt Off My Back." To me anyway, I relate it to this sense of malaise and melancholy that was in the air leading up to 9/11.

I was living in New York until two months before and someone said, "I feel spooky. I feel like something's going to happen."

Yeah, it was in the air. Things are in the air before they happen. Of course once it happened there was no thought of what had led up to it. I mean it was all...

...reaction time.

It's still reaction time. I wrote this song called "Skyscraper" in Alaska that summer. [Starts singing] "Skyscraper, skyscraper, there's a hole in your sky. Skyscraper, skyscraper, let me rest in your shadow, rest in your shadow before I die."

What made you think of skyscrapers in the middle of Alaska?

I was in the middle of Alaska on the river and I was just laughing crazily because it was such strong nature, such strong country, that the opposite image came in my mind. I looked at a tall tree and I went "Skyscraper, skyscraper." It was one of those things that just came out. So that happened before 9/11 and all the lyrics of that song are about what's inside a building and its disappearance. Strange, I don't know.

Can your music bring people together and help with this sense of melancholy?

I don't seem to play in a militant style that's trying to shake the foundations of the empire. I wouldn't know how to describe it. I just write songs about what I see and hear and people I know. I don't have an agenda really. I think music is a healing force and it helps people. It certainly stirs them up but you never know what people bring to the music, you know? It used to be, when I was a kid, people would go to rock & roll shows and there'd always be these gang rumbles afterwards. But I wasn't in a gang. I just liked the music. So, it's different people, it's what they bring to the situation.

I have a full-scale reggae band with up to nine pieces, and when we play it's like a gathering of the vibes. That kind of brings the people in because lyrically it's kind of anthemic and spiritual. The lyrics are like, "Fetch wood, carry water, pull the Devil by the tail." It's kind of teasing and with that presentation, that kind of beat, and that kind of sound, it's more body music. People get hit in their bodies. They move to it, they stand up, they dance. But what I'm doing in acoustic music right now is not based on drums. It's based on acoustic guitars and rhythms that have developed in bluegrass music, and it's a different thing. Just the pure facility that Tony Rice has on the guitar, the brilliance and the genius, just frees me up so I can sing with a full voice and not feel like I have to drag the band along with my rhythm guitar playing. So it's a different situation.

Our new bass player is going to be with us tonight. Catherine Popper was working with Ryan Adams and she said the bigger he got, the louder he got, the harder it was to play music anymore. And Sharon [Gilchrist], my mandolin player, and I just played with Yonder Mountain String Band and [when] we got off stage we looked at each other. It was like, "I was just acting. What were you doing?" I don't know, I couldn't hear a thing so I was acting like I was playing and playing notes and things but it wasn't music because it wasn't a musical experience. It was just a lot of people making a lot of noise and a big crowd of people making more noise.

That's the kind of success that happens when you start playing these venues, and you deal with it however you deal with it. The band, they've got their thing together. They've got their in-ear microphones and everything. But for us, it comes down simply to an acoustic instrument over a microphone, and it really keeps you honest from a musical point of view 'cause we're just going to be playing whatever sound we can make from the instrument. There's nothing plugged in. I don't feel like it makes us better. It does keep you from getting too caught up in a sense – it keeps you from being too successful actually is what I could say [laughs].

If you can spread joy that sort of takes on its own political meaning.

Yeah. The people feel the joy inside themselves. The music is just a little key into the locks of the people's hearts. It makes them feel good, have a good time. Then there's an artist like Michael Franti who is overtly political and the music is a world-beat kind of sound. Well, the audience isn't pondering his words but they're just sort of rocking out dancing. And I don't know if those people are conservative or liberal, they could be anything. And he says some sort of political thing and everybody gives a big cheer but what it means ultimately I don't think you can say. They're just having a good time. Republicans will dance to the same music [laughs]. It's all a theatrical display, you know? You never know the motivations.

Franti's actually out there doing more than a lot of folks to organize.

No, that's a great band. His drummer Manas [Itene] is the best guy on that stand. I mean he is really good. I just tried to get him for a recording session but unfortunately he was on tour. He's played with my reggae band before. He's the major guy in that band. He's a very powerful guy.

A lot of the musicians from Africa really have a thing. I've been listening to Ali Farka Toure. He has a record called Savane – King of the Desert Blues. African music has such a strong spirit to it, especially with these individual artists. But then you look at the liner notes, you realize, wait a minute, there were a lot of overdubs done in Paris. So it's a French connection. Oh, it was a French colony. Oh, okay. It's very clever with what they're doing with what the world music market is, but you've got to love it for what it is.

It's the same in Jamaica. A lot of those guys get their backing from somebody in England because if you're Jamaican you can live in England because it's a former British colony.

So it's the time of reciprocal colonization from all these former empires, and the music reflects that, comes back and forth. The British in Jamaica put in a whole school system. It was the educational system that gave rise to the first generation of great horn players and studio musicians. The ska players, they were all educated in the British school system, and, in fact, if you wanted to learn a trade, music was part of a trade school. So here's a colonization of a country that gives them what they thought was the best of the imperial educational system and it gave rise to reggae music, which always ended up talking about slavery and anti-colonialism. It's weird, man.

Everything is colonization. You work in a restaurant in San Francisco and you go in the kitchen and you make a dessert from Charleston, South Carolina and people are loving it, right? It's the importation of ideas. Music, because it's so fluid, is a great place for the importation of ideas. Music is feelings. You don't have to really pin it down very much. It's just a vibe. I think the challenge is [deciding] what feeling you're going [for]. Are you going to form a band that's like a Neville Brothers band and just up the dance part of the show? Or are you going to have a subtler band with hand percussion and more of a mystical kind of sound? A lot of ways to go in music.

Someone like yourself, who could call on a lot of people to play with, it must be hard to decide.

Oh yeah, that's all I do is I just go, "Hmmm, whom in my galaxy of musical heroes can I pick now?"

Is there anyone left that you haven't played with that you really want to?

To me, it's always back to the drawing board. A thing comes up in me that I have to let out. It can be any kind of subject. It can be political. I wrote a song about these Iraqi kids fleeing the bombing of Baghdad and this American soldier who sees them coming across the desert like a mirage. His captain tells him, "Lock, load and fire when ready," and he's like, "Oh shit." There are kids on a camel and he has a split second to decide whether these guys are suicide bombers or kids. So there's this suspense in the song, and finally he takes the chance. He doesn't kill them, he doesn't shoot them, and they come riding through on this crazed camel and that's the comedic part of it. That's political, but it's political from the point of view that we understand the human dilemma. Unfortunately the real dilemma is now – that was written three years ago – and now the dilemma is so much more. Nobody knows who to trust. Everything's blowing up.

I did see something interesting. I think for the first time on the front page of the New York Times they showed a body. It was the other day. They showed a guy, a suicide bomber. He was still in the car but they showed it. It was shocking. We haven't seen them. During the Vietnam War, they showed you six months of photos of dead people and the people were on the streets [protesting]. But even the New York Times - that's pretty critical of the administration - they're not showing [it], whereas in Europe they're showing it all the time, in color. You go to one of these international bookstores and buy a German magazine [and] it's shocking. Here, everything is kind of nice, you know, it's not too shocking.

Today we have a volunteer army. Vietnam, when the soldiers came home, they were spit on, thrown rocks at, and those people didn't volunteer to do that, they got drafted. You either shot yourself in the leg, moved to Mexico, or you went.

No, what you did in those days was you put peanut butter under your arms and you went in for your Army physical and they would just take one look at you and [say], "You're out of here, buddy." I lost good friends in Vietnam. You're only in that age group once in your life, and kids you grew up with go off to war and die. Could war ever be justified? That's the big question. Who would you stand up to, if they're coming down the street, and I'm going to save your life? Am I going to sacrifice myself or am I going to defend myself? It may be something stuck in people's heads. Maybe this is the way we're born into this life, with a predisposition towards certain types of activities. And those people, in their heads, think that the nobility of war itself is a good cause or that you're fighting for your country. Cooler heads have to prevail really.

Let's shift back into music. Do you think that traditionalists like Bill Monroe would enjoy today's progressive bluegrass with the new directions it's taking?

Yeah, but Bill enjoyed all kinds of things. He liked good music, you know? He appreciated craft and inspiration in other people but when it got too close to his territory then he'd pass judgments about whether it measured up. It was almost impossible to tell when Bill was pulling your leg or not 'cause he'd say some pretty funny things about people's attempts. You know what he liked? He just liked music. He referred to it as "music that people could follow." It wasn't too challenging. It was a high level of accomplishment in the playing of music that brings you along into it.

Tells you a story.

Yeah, brings you along, tells you a story, involves you. It's like why he said the band wore white shirts because he wanted the country people to know how much he respected what he was doing. It was unusual. Musicians in those days, well, early on you see photographs in the '30s of even blues players like Robert Johnson in a coat and tie and a snappy brim. All the old-time music guys from North Carolina, they never appeared in overalls 'cause that would be like playing the fool to their own people. When you play onstage in overalls it's either an act or you're being obtuse to the fact that people wear overalls when they're working the ground.

So, these old-time players would dress up a little bit. When Leadbelly got out of prison, Alan Lomax had him in overalls playing up around New York City 'cause he was part of the people. Finally Leadbelly demanded that he got paid. He went out and he bought himself a tailored suit and he never appeared in overalls again. He wore beautiful gold cufflinks and it kind of blew the scene a little bit because it was no longer the convict Leadbelly in overalls. He wasn't going for the Negro image. He was like, "I'll take that fine cut suit, thank you very much." That's really thinking outside the box of stereotypes, you know? Then again, he just wanted to feel grand, and it disconcerted the Lomax people. They were like, "Well, I don't know. He's just going out with his people after the show and getting drunk, and he won't wear overalls anymore."

I just don't think you can tie music down like that. I think that it's a free, spontaneous and energetic expression of, really, joy, underneath it all. If it has to come through a painful disguise then it does that. If it has to come through a jubilant disguise it'll do that. If it has to sound dark it does that. There's an audience for every single kind of sound you can imagine. I like things I hear from all over the world that just spark you. Who can say what music really is? It's a formless energy that moves people. It's a good place to put your head. Whether it's from stuff you've heard or whether it's from stuff you want to say, you just put your head in that space. Sometimes you pick up an instrument and it does all the talking for you. It just leads you, and you end up writing the songs that feel [of] the moment.

Somehow it seems to connect you with other like-minded people.

Yeah, man. It brings people out. It's a joy.

Best concert you ever saw, if you had to pick one?

When I was 14 years old, Chuck Berry, standing up on stage grinning in his green tuxedo and black tie going, "Heh heh, this is my foolishness suit," and playing "School Days."

Peter Rowan - Peter Rowan

Year: 1978
Label: Flying Fish

This album was former Bill Monroe Blue Grass Boy Peter Rowan's debut solo album, released in 1978. Joining him are Flaco Jimenez, accordion; Mike Seeger, autoharp; Lamar Greer, 5-string banjo; Roger Mason, Buell Neidlinger, Todd Phillips, acoustic bass fiddle; Richard Greene, Tex Logan, fiddles; Barry Mitterhoff, mandolin; Estrella Berosini, Laura Eastman, Alice Gerrard, harmony vocals and others.

1 Outlaw Love - Rowan - 3:21
2 Break My Heart Again - Rowan - 5:14
3 A Woman in Love - Rowan - 2:21
4 When I Was a Cowboy - Leadbelly - 2:38
5 Land of the Navajo - Rowan - 6:19
6 The Free Mexican Airforce - Rowan - 6:01
7 Panama Red - Rowan - 3:01
8 Midnite Moonlite - Rowan - 4:13
9 The Gypsy King's Farewell - Rowan - 4:15

one-eyed jack's farewell.
mp3 128kbps | w/ small cover

Peter Rowan - With the Red Hot Pickers

Year: 1984
Label: Sugar Hill

Review by Jason Ankeny

Joining Rowan on this 1995 release are the Red Hot Pickers, a group comprised of Richard Greene, Roger Mason, Andy Statman, and Tony Trischka. The record marks a reunion for Rowan and Greene, both of whom were Blue Grass Boys with Bill Monroe before joining forces in Earth Opera, Sea Train and Muleskinner.

1 Hobo Song - Bonus - 4:37
2 Old, Old House - Bynum, Jones - 3:16
3 Willow Garden - Traditional - 2:53
4 Jimmie Brown, the Newsboy - Carter - 3:20
5 Wild Bill Jones - Traditional - 5:30
6 Hiroshima Mon Amour - Rowan - 3:42
7 Come All Ye Tender-Hearted - Traditional - 4:47
8 Oh, Susannah - Foster, Mahal, Traditional - 3:46
9 Rosalie McFall - Garcia, Hart, Kreutzmann, Lesh ... - 3:09
10 A Good Woman's Love - Coben, Cobin - 3:14

mp3 160kbps | w/ cover

and once again a request. If anyone has his albums Medicine Trail, Revelry, Peter Rowan & the Wild Stallions, or Best of the Sugar Hill Years, I would love to hear them.


ahoy. i dig your blog. you might enjoy gangstagrass:

Hey Gangstagrass, nice tunes! Good timing too, as I'm focusing on experimental bluegrass right now. You know, it's rather surprising that there haven't been more bluegrass/hip-hop fusions. If Peter Rowan can make Reggaebilly... And I'm also impressed that the musicianship is top-notch and the drums never get in the way of the other instruments, which usually happens when you stick a drum kit in a bluegrass band. Take a listen, y'all...

and Jason said:

ahoy! thanks very much for posting about the band, and i'm glad you like the tunes.

if anyone is looking for more info, the new album, produced by Rench, is:

T.O.N.E-Z - vocals
Rench - vocals, beats, guitar
Matt Check - vocals, banjo
Todd Livingston - resonator guitar
Jason Cade - fiddle
Roy Shimmyo - bass
PREPMODE - turntables
Jen Larson - vocals

May 18, 2010

Tony Trischka

“…the godfather of what’s sometimes called new acoustic music.” - New York Times

“…most influential banjo player of the latter part of the 20th century, certainly in terms of his profound influence on succeeding generations of modern players.” - Banjo Newsletter

“Keep playing them new notes.” - Bill Monroe

Number 4 in the Country Cooking graduate series! I really can't say anything that would top what Bill keith has said:

Mere words hardly suffice to describe this music, which, issuing from my Macintosh (Macintosh out of Macintosh, by Oftofon-Thorens) pervasively and insidiously interfused and permeated my entire being. So if it's mere words you want, better get another record - this one's all instrumental. But if it's poetry you're after, these instrumentals have plenty. Plenty of poetic irony, too, not to mention onomatopoeia. In fact, after listening to both sides, I'm sure you'll agree that Tony's eclecticism borders on iconoclasticism with definite transmigratory tendencies. Ergo, I feel safe to say without fear of contradiction that this record will become, in the months and years ahead, the sine qua non of je ne sais quoi. But since i have known Tony for ten years or more, I cannot hold that against him.

Of particular note is the high level of musicianship with which Tony surrounds himself. These highly skilled accompanists, all richly deserving of high praise, are all highly successful in carrying the music and themselves to dizzying heights.

As for some of the tunes on this album, all too little has been (or should be) said. It is difficult (but not impossible) to overlook the inventiveness in such a composition as "My Birdcage Needs a New Paper." And who could fail to miss the rhythmic subtleties in "The Jig Is Up"? Anyone who can't hear, please raise their hands.

We're all familiar with the mathematician's assertion that if a thousand monkeys were given a thousand typewriters for a thousand years, one of them would probably produce a Shakespearean sonnet. But if they'd been given a thousand banjos instead, one of them would have probably written "The Only Way." But of course, Tony has succeeded in doing this in a fraction of the allotted time, which attests to his creative abilities, although the subject of Tony's creativity is a little too abstruse to be fully discussed at this point in time or this moment in space.

In all seriousness, though, Tony should be commended for his courage in making this record, which is guaranteed to offend a great number of people in spite of what are sure to be limited sales. Of one thing we can easily be certain, however - Tony is not being lured by the fickle forces of crass commercialism or the all-mighty dollar.

Having always felt that it's best to let sleeping dogs light, I invite you without further ado to sit back and enjoy this album.

Bill Keith a/k/a Brad (1974)

Tony Trischka
Biography by Sandra Brennan

The avant-garde banjo sylings of Tony Trischka inspired a whole generation of progressive bluegrass musicians; he was not only considered among the very best pickers, he was also one of the instrument's top teachers, and created numerous instructional books, teaching video tapes and cassettes.

A native of Syracuse, New York, Trischka's interest in banjo was sparked by the Kingston Trio's "Charlie and the MTA" in 1963. Two years later, he joined the Down City Ramblers, where he remained through 1971. That year, Trischka made his recording debut on 15 Bluegrass Instrumentals with the band Country Cooking; at the same time, he was also a member of Country Granola. In 1973, he began a two-year stint with Breakfast Special. Between 1974 and 1975, he recorded two solo albums, Bluegrass Light and Heartlands. After one more solo album in 1976, Banjoland, he went on to become musical leader for the Broadway show The Robber Bridegroom. Trischka toured with the show in 1978, the year he also played with the Monroe Doctrine.

Beginning in 1978, he also played with artists such as Peter Rowan, Richard Greene, and Stacy Phillips. In the early 1980s, he began recording with his new group Skyline, which recorded its first album in 1983. Subsequent albums included Robot Plane Flies over Arkansas (solo, 1983), Stranded in the Moonlight (with Skyline, 1984) and Hill Country (solo, 1985). In 1984, he performed in his first feature film, Foxfire. Three years later, he worked on the soundtrack for Driving Miss Daisy. Trischka produced the Belgian group Gold Rush's No More Angels in 1988. The following year, Skyline recorded its final album, Fire of Grace. He also recorded the theme song for Books on the Air, a popular National Public Radio Show, and continued his affiliation with the network by appearing on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, From Our Front Porch, and other radio shows. Trischka's solo recordings include 1993's World Turning, 1995's Glory Shone Around: A Christmas Collection and 1999's Bend. New Deal followed in 2003. The new studio album was a bluesy adaptation of bluegrass standards that featured, among other things, a vocal cameo by Loudon Wainwright. Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, featuring an appearance by comedian Steve Martin, came out four years later.

With his fearless musical curiosity as the guiding force, Tony Trischka's latest critically acclaimed release, Territory roams widely through the banjo's creative terrain. Nine selections partner Tony with fellow banjoists Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Bill Evans, Bill Keith, Bruce Molsky, and twelve all-Trischka solo tracks explore a panorama of tunings, banjo sounds, and traditions; tapping the creative potential of America's signature musical instrument.

Tony Trischka - The Early Years

Year: 1998
Label: Rounder

The Early Years contains banjo virtuoso Tony Trischka's first two Rounder albums -- Bluegrass Light (1973) and Heartlands (1975) -- in their entirety. "In the ongoing story of American roots music, Tony Trischka's first two Rounder recordings . . . rank among the most important and pivotal works of the late twentieth century." --Bill Evans "Rarely, perhaps three or four times a century, some music will be created that is a pure, explosive expression of life energy and uncontaminated joy. The music on this CD is, in my humble opinion, exactly that. When I listen to the volcanic, insanely creative opening to "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" and other cuts like it on this album, I feel like my head is going to explode with happiness. I put Tony's early music in the same category as the best of Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Scotty Stoneman and Wagner: mad and magnificent. Tony's music is the most successful urban embrace of rural sensibilities that I've ever heard. It's the music of trees and vines breaking through the sidewalks of the Bronx, of the irrepressible, implacable energy of the earth pushing through joyfully, at all times, in all places. It's some of the most unjustly neglected of all popular music masterpieces." --Matt Glaser

1 Two If by Night - Trischka - 2:24
2 China Grove - Trischka - 2:39
3 For You - Trischka - 5:15
4 My Birdcage Needs a New Paper (Because My Parakeet's Already Read ...) - Trischka - 2:49
5 Hampton Hope - Trischka - 1:25
6 Higher up the River - Trischka - 2:47
7 Sleepy Hollow Real - Trischka - 2:11
8 Twelve Weeks at Sea - Trischka - 3:35
9 The Jig Is Up - Trischka - 1:46
10 Blue Light - Trischka - 4:00
11 Remington Ride - Remington - 2:12
12 The Only Way - Trischka - 4:18
13 Jerzy the Peddler - Kosek, Statman, Trischka - 2:13
14 Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms - Monroe - 2:32
15 Lilacs Look Like Lakes (In the Sun) - Trischka - 3:44
16 Loch Lomond - Traditional - 1:31
17 Bitter's Wheat - Trischka - 4:48
18 Is This Cloud Valley - Trischka - 3:18
19 Soldier's Joy - Traditional - 3:32
20 Brian and Sarah - Crooks, Dancks - :55
21 Slapback - Trischka - 2:55
22 Sage Age - Trischka - 4:08
23 Pike County Breakdown - Jones - 2:18
24 Jesse's Girl - Trischka - 2:36
25 Serving Mankind - Trischka - 2:01
26 Heartlands - Trischka - 2:57

booklet (thanks to 5147hoppe)
mp3 320 kbps | w/ small cover | 150mb

Tony Trischka - Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas

Year: 1983
Label: Rounder

Trischka's fourth Rounder album, and one of his strongest collections of originals to date, was recorded in 1982. His extraordinary technique, ferocious drive and unique harmonic sense make for exciting and adventurous music for the banjo. His accompanists include Andy Statman on mandolin and Matt Glaser on fiddle.

Review by Eugene Chadbourne
It is funny to listen to Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas and look back on the reviews that ran in conservative publications such as Old Time Music at the time the album came out. From the comments at the time, one would think this was a recording of the bombing of Dresden or instruments being smashed along the I-40. And 30 years later, the solo banjo piece "Avondale," short as it is, would no doubt start a fistfight were it to be played backstage at a banjo-picking contest. This is one of the most famous albums of what came to be known as progressive bluegrass, and while it is in the nature of many musicians to be progressive in their thinking, they sometimes find themselves caught in styles of music that don't encourage such an attitude. This is the situation Trischka found himself in when he and his cohorts started stretching many of the ideas of what might be appropriate to play in a combo whose instrumentation had been handed down from traditional bluegrass bands (i.e., mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, and so forth). Many of the sort of chord progressions and arrangements heard here have been copied shamelessly ad nauseum ever since, sometimes by second-rate hacks and sometimes by the participants themselves. There is an exciting dimension to hearing these ideas being presented for what is often nearly the first time, and anyone familiar with bluegrass and its conventions can feel twinges of panic at some of the choices of notes, similar to how a frightened camper reacts to each successive weird noise from the forest. And many later recordings of this type of music don't quite strike such a perfect balance of the best aspects of the related musics of bebop and bluegrass. One thing is for sure: This is one of the finest recordings of acoustic instruments ever made, and the consistency is amazing considering that the tracks originate from several different sessions on both the East and West Coasts. Pickers heard here at their absolute best include Andy Statman, Matt Glaser, Darol Anger, David Grisman, Tony Rice, and Barry Mitterhoff.

1 Purchase Grover - Trischka - 1:29
2 Roberto's Dream - Trischka - 4:32
3 Blown Down Wall - Trischka - 3:22
4 A Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas - Trischka - 3:58
5 Pour Brel - Trischka - 3:33
6 Avondale - Trischka - :37
7 Sea Shank - Trischka - 3:10
8 Triceratops - Stover, Trischka - 4:34
9 Fiddle Tune Medley: Doc Wyland's Reel/Dede of the Highlands/Corte Mad - Trischka - 4:05
10 John's Waltz to the Miller - Trischka - 3:52
11 The Navigator - Trischka - 7:56

more music for robots.
mp3 320 kbps | w/ small cover | 86mb