Jade Note Music
One evening, the Crooked Jades band was playing in a local San Francisco club when an audience member got up and danced. That’s not unusual for this talented young string band, except that the fan wasn’t back-stepping to a hoedown. She was New York-based choreographer Kate Weare and she swayed interpretatively to the lonesome ballad “Moonshiner.”
Thus began a collaboration that led to the group providing music for the Kate Weare Company’s modern dance project Bright Land. That’s important to keep in mind while listening to this remarkable recording. The music stands on its own, from classic mountain frolic tunes like “Ida Red” and “Shady Grove” to haunting African-influenced a cappella vocals like “Uncle Rabbit” and “World’s On Fire.” But, if you visualize it as part of a dance piece, it rises even higher and truly takes flight.
The Crooked Jades ensemble, with its polished but vital roots sound, is no stranger to modern media. They’ve contributed to the soundtracks of the PBS documentary Seven Sisters: A Kentucky Portrait and the Oscar-nominated dramatic movie Into The Wild. Their sound can be as cinematic as it is tradition-grown.
Right from the jaw harp and banjo introduction to “Sandy Boys,” it’s clear that this is an impressively melding of rural heritages with urban performance sensibilities. Band co-founders Jeff Kazor (guitar and harmonium) and Lisa Berman (banjo, slide guitar, harmonium, and jaw harp) are evocative lead singers. Their talented regular bandmates are Rose Sinclair (minstrel banjo, harmonium, and the lively ancient art of body percussion), Karen Celia Heil (fiddle and vocals), and Charlie Rose (standup bass). Joining them to best advantage are supporting musicians Erik Pearson (slide guitar and vocals), Elise Engelberg (violin), Jennie Benford (vocals), and Bruce Kaphan (mellotron).
The music is firmly rooted in tradition with the band especially sparkling on the uptempo instrumental medley “Old Blue Sow”/“Johnny Don’t Get Drunk.” But, you’ll likely need a sense of musical adventure (for example, the interlude before “Old Man Below,” “New Lost Mission Blues,” and “Bass Interlude” are especially edgy stuff). If you have it, you’ll be richly rewarded. Visualize the dancing in your mind’s eye while this lovely, lively and compelling music flows into your ears. The Crooked Jades’ soundtrack for the Kate Weare Company’s Bright Land is happy evidence that old-time music is not only a relevant contemporary art form, it will probably prove timeless. (Crooked Jades, 1725 Sanchez St., San Francisco, CA 94131, www.crookedjades.com.)RDS