While it is the case that a band that is playing bluegrass music will include a guitar, fiddle, banjo and bass, it is a logical fallacy to assume the converse, i.e. that a band with that instrumental line-up is limited to playing bluegrass. Thus it is with Jayme Stone and his all star band, who made their Nippertown debut at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy last Saturday night. They played a long, 14-song set that consisted mainly of Jayme’s original instrumentals or original derivations of folk songs and themes from around the world.
The opening song was a derivation of a Bulgarian folk dance in 7/8 time, followed by a derivation of a Moorish sword fighting song. These were not simple hummable melodies to be sure! The arrangements were complex but hit a groove and rode it with banjo, fiddle and guitar each having a chance to stepout before melding back into the swirling whole. Their highly interpretive take on the traditional song “Cumberland Gap” benefited from his introduction as it was Saturday-New York Times-crossword-puzzle hard to find the original melody, and hoedown foot-tapping was out of the question!
The set covered the globe: some Bach, up to Norway, back to Bulgaria and ending in West Africa. Rather than trying to invent yet another description of Jayme Stone’s music, here is a very brief sampling of many terms used by other reviewers: “synthesis,” “boundary crossing,” “poly-rhythmic,” “inquisitive,” “difficult to describe.” I concur with all of them. You need to hear it.
The banjo is a limited instrument, and hits its emotional peaks in highly rhythmic old-time songs, fast bluegrass picking and droning, creepy minor-key mountain songs. These are a perfect fit to the essential and primitive qualities of the 5-string banjo. The emotion in Jayme’s music is driven by an intellectual appreciation of its complexity and the expert craftsmanship of the band in addition to the moody elusive themes of the songs, which often were most powerfully expressed by fiddler Casey Driessen. The point is, it still seems like a little bit of a novelty act – look kids, he’s playing Bach on the banjo! Sorry Jayme, while it is politically incorrect not to slavishly express astonishment at your music, no kid is going to hear your band and decide he has to learn to play the banjo. It’s not visceral enough to press that button. They will have to start with Earl and maybe work their way up.
The Sanctuary for Independent Media was completely full, and the concert was webcast as well. It was a great night of music.
Review by Bowtie
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union