Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tin Hat Review

I wasn't going to put stuff I write on this blog, but then I figured why not? Here's my review of Tin Hat, from today's edition of Metroland Magazine:

That Was Something

Tin Hat

Club Helsinki, March 4

This was the fourth time that Tin Hat have played Helsinki, and my first time seeing them. I can only plead ignorance for this, and will not ever miss them again, barring a really, really serious act of God.

Classically trained, but lacking any sense of stylistic boundaries and holding a shared vision that toed the line between freedom and madness, Tin Hat just plain dazzled a full house during a two-hour rollercoaster ride of acoustic sound. Most of the audience spent the evening leaning forward, totally sucked in and barely breathing; the room was pin-drop quiet the whole night.

What does one say about a group of musicians who whiz from the likes of Haydn to Phillip Glass to Astor Piazzolla, often in a few bars? Who play two hours of rigorously composed music, interspersed with wild flights of improvisation, with no sheet music, and no perceptible leader? Who play so softly you can often hear your own heart beat, but with the force and deliberateness of a marching band?

Pieces tended to be constructed around Mark Orton’s nylon string guitar; occasionally he would play a dobro, and the sizzle of the slide provided the gutteral swagger of Americana. Ben Goldberg played woodwinds, and mostly the beguilingly sonorous contralto clarinet, adding Eastern European and bop-jazz accents. Goldberg often played in synch with Tom Waits sideman Ara Anderson’s tiny pump organ; Anderson also played percussion, including glockenspiel and tearing and crumpling paper, along with trumpet, with which he changed the colors of the room repeatedly. Anderson used a drum as a resonator/mute for his horn; his various shenanigans made the music extremely tactile, and pleasurably so.

Violinist-fiddler Carla Kihlstedt was the closest thing to a focal point, and she combined conservatory technique and tone with a constant willingness to step outside and use her instrument to punctuate whatever else was going on with guerrilla scratches and swoops.

The group played several new pieces from a soon-to-be recorded disc influenced by the writings and artwork of eccentric Polish artist Bruno Schwarz. One can only hope they get the recording finished quickly and come back to the region. Again and again.

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