Special project bands have become a substantial part of the contemporary music scene, in a sort of self-perpetuating cycle. As the members of more top groups look for performance vehicles outside of their regular band formats, other members of those groups feel the pull as well.
The bluegrass world sees this a bit less frequently, as its touring schedules conform more to a series of weekly mini-tours than bursts of concentrated and carefully calibrated show dates lasting weeks and months.
Punch Brothers serve as a perfect example. Their tremendous popularity across multiple genres allows them to schedule tours in pre-planned segments of any year, with their fearless leader Chris Thile using the rest of his time for other projects that suit his whims. This extra “free time” from the Brothers allows his bandmates to also schedule side projects during these windows, something that is serving them well this summer.
That’s because Thile is spending the summer with a Nickel Creek reunion tour, and the fall doing duet shows with Edgar Meyer, spelling no work for the Punchers. So Noam Pikelny is touring with Stuart Duncan, Chris Eldridge with Julian Lage, and now Paul Kowert with Haas, Kowert, Tice.
Haas, Kowert, Tice releases their debut album today, with a brief tour in support starting later this month. Kowert is on bass, with Brittany Haas on fiddle, and Jordan Tice on guitar. All three have become prominent string artists well before 30 years old, and were each recognized as prodigies while still in school.
There may be no better introduction to this trio than this one Kowert penned for their web site.
“We’re 27 now. We met each other when we were about 20 at various musical gatherings (festivals, camps). Hearing and playing with each other was quite a thrill, and we instantly liked hanging out as well. Brittany was at Princeton, I was in Philly at Curtis, and Jordan was at Towson in Maryland… and had a car. Jordan would pick me up (the bass rides shotgun in a sedan) and we’d head out to Princeton to crash Britt’s dorm room (we were surprised to find tom quads for her school’s marching band there). Among our first gigs were a Princeton fundraising event and a (newly created) Curtis Square Dance.
When graduation time came, Britt joined the band Crooked Still, I joined Punch Brothers, and Jordan moved to Boston where there were many people to collaborate with and write for. We continued playing together in different combinations (Jordan’s 2012 record The Secret History features me and Simon Chrisman, Brittany’s 2012 record with Dan Trueman Criss Cross features Jordan, etc), but it wasn’t until early 2013 that we reconvened as a trio. We started by playing the tunes that we used to play, and a lot of Jordan’s material that he had written when we first met (stuff that ended up on The Secret History). We jumped in Britt’s mom’s car for a west coast tour, Jordan’s parents’ car for an east coast tour, and trains for gigs around NYC. It quickly became clear that we needed to write new material and make a new record, so we started putting blocks in the calendar to stay in Brooklyn and work on new music together, rather than hit the road and make some cash. We’re glad we did.”
The music they have written and jointly arranged for You Got This is beautiful and haunting, drawing on the traditions of American fiddle music while challenging those boundaries at the same time. All three are virtuoso performers, though Kowert may especially stand out given the relative dearth of lines written for upright bass in modern string music.
Here’s a live video of one of the more traditional tracks from the CD, Down The Hatch, performed at the Second Annual Brooklyn Bluegrass Bash in October 2013.
And another from the other side of the tracks, Granda’s Cheesebarn.
As an all-instrumental outfit, this mega-talented trio will be working against something of a headwind, but their music is worthy of your attention. Be sure to check out You Got This, and take advantage of the opportunity to catch them live at any of these shows:
- 7/25 Ossipee Music Fest – Cornish, ME
- 7/28 Club Helsinki – Hudson NY
- 7/29 Joe’s Pub – NYC
- 7/30 Watermelon Wednesdays – West Whately, MA
- 7/31 Club Passim – Cambridge MA
- 8/9 Grand Targhee Bluegrass Fest – Alta, WY
- 8/29-30 Four Corners Folk Fest – Pagosa, CO
- 9/20 Fresh Grass Fest – North Adams, MA
- 10/9 The Baby Grand- Wilmington, DE
You can keep up with Haas, Kowert, Tice online.