We’ve commented many times here at Bluegrass Today about the new trends in acoustic string music brought about by its recent acceptance as a course of study in higher education. Not only does this mean that promising young musicians in our wider genre get top-level training through early adulthood, it also gets them greater opportunities to meet, network, and collaborate with one another.
Such is the case with Ethan Jodziewicz & Tatiana Hargreaves, whose self-titled debut EP has just been released. Ethan is a fresh graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he was mentored by jazz, classical, and new acoustic bass wizard Edgar Meyer. Tatiana is still in school, completing an ethnomusicology program at Hampshire College in Massachusetts, and both now live in Boston.
Ethan has appeared in several stories here this year, for his work as a part of Mr Sun, a Boston-based string band headed up by Darol Anger and Joe Walsh. He is also Sierra Hull’s duet partner for her upcoming album and many of her current live appearances. Not many recent college grads find this much work right out of school.
Like Ethan, Tatiana is a transplanted west coaster, growing up in Oregon. Music was in her life since childhood, with an older brother who was also a prodigy on the violin. Alex Hargreaves now performs with Sara Jarosz, and both siblings have a coveted cache of fiddle trophies at home.
Now together, Ethan and Tatiana have created roughly 22 minutes of beautiful music for violin and bass. Just as we have become accustomed to the cello as a primary melody instrument in American string bands, now we have Ethan presenting the upright bass in that role, as Edgar Meyer had done before him. The album starts with their arrangement of the old tune, Piney Woods, followed by a piece of Ethan’s called ENT in a modern fiddle tune form.
There is room for both carefully arranged and wholly improvised material, all performed brilliantly. For example, Introduction, the second track, was recorded as a complete improvisation between the two. It has the feel of a modern classical composition, but Ethan assures us that it is all off the cuff.
That leads directly into Farewell to Trion, another traditional tune, with the head taken by the bass with accompaniment from Tatiana’s five string fiddle. The two then play it in harmony before the fiddle takes over, and then back to the bass.
Long Steel Rail gets the banjo/bass duet treatment, with vocals from both partners. This is the old time number that served as the basis for Rueben, Rueben’s Train, and Train 45 in the bluegrass world. Tatiana shows herself to be a capable clawhammerer as well as fiddler, and Ethan lays down a punchy, percussive bass part.
A medley of tunes from Swedish folk band Väsen, Pedalpolska/Botanisten, come next, both of which fit this scaled-down format nicely. The first is a sprightly piece while the second feels like what the Scots would call an air – with the bass playing the melody up in the range of the fiddle at times.
To close things out, the duo plays a tune of Tatiana’s, which Ethan assisted in writing, Ostrich With Pearls. This one fits the style of the rest of record, with a fiddle tune-like base.
Hargreaves is a fine fiddler, with a clear command of her tone and technique, though she feels a bit overshadowed by Jodziewicz’s striking proficiency using the bass to accomplish complicated melodies in an old time/bluegrass style. We’ll all heard bass players take a stab at fiddle tunes, often devising creative ways to reduce them to an arrangement that can fit with the difficulties of the bass fingerboard’s width and length. But Ethan plays them fully realized, as smoothly as Kenny Baker ever pulled a bow. Together, it’s a beautiful thing.
Warning to bass players: put your ego in check before listening.
Ethan Jodziewicz & Tatiana Hargreaves by Ethan Jodziewicz & Tatiana Hargreaves
The music on this album is a treat for the ears. Anyone who appreciates traditional string music played at virtuosic levels will find much to enjoy.