Friday, March 14, 2008

A Melange of Fiddle Music in Branford, Connecticut

Last Saturday--yes, I'm a week behind again and I am just back from The Saw Doctors' show in Times Square, which was awesome, awesome, awesome, so that's what I really want to blog about, but I also want to maintain some sort of order--I traveled up to Connecticut to see my parents and to attend a concert put on by the Branford Folk Music Society.

The featured act on Saturday night was Notorious, a duo consisting of Eden MacAdam-Somer on violin and Larry Unger on guitar, steel guitar and banjo. Larry Unger's name pops up frequently in the contra dance, old-time and bluegrass worlds, and I am sure that I have seen him with various contra dance bands at festivals, so I was intrigued enough to see what this band was all about.

Well, the band was mostly about Eden MacAdam-Somer, who is a simply wonderful fiddler who studied violin at the University of Houston and Rice University and now lives in Boston. Larry Unger played mostly a supporting role, although he was an essential part of the performance, providing solid back-up and taking a good number of breaks. For whatever reason, the crowd was not in the habit on Saturday night of applauding for instrumental breaks, so Larry did not get as much recognition as he might have.

The pair opened with some solo fiddle tunes, and then the guitar kicked in as Eden began to sing some lyrics to "Greasy Coat." On the second set of tunes, Eden busted out some flat-foot clogging moves. Two numbers into the set, and this young woman had played fiddle, sang and clogged. They weren't holding anything back! So I thought it was going to mostly be an old-time set, and the trend continued with "Working on the New Railroad," a song that Eden learned as part of a bluegrass band in Boston and that the group Crooked Still recorded on their most recent CD. That was followed by the medley of "Old Aunt Jenny with a Nightcap On" and another tune.

The old-time mountain tune trend was broken with a little but of gypsy jazz, although it was an original tune by Larry Unger called "The Ice Storm," but it might as well have been Stephane Grappelli; it was a wonderfully composed tune. This went into a jazzy torch song called "All Night Long," followed by the Yiddish vaudeville song "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen." A Jewish wedding song that sets text from the Song of Songs and "The Romanian Train Song"--which, in all honesty, sounded quite a bit like "Train 45" to my ear--closed up the first set.

At the end of intermission, Eden's grandfather, who had come up from New York City--and you thought I was the only one who would travel to Branford, Connecticut, in search of folk music--with her grandmother and uncle commandeered the microphone to announce, "You may have heard of Itzhak Perlman. Well, Eden can do everything that Itzhak Perlman can do, and there are some things that Eden can do that Itzkak Perlman can't do!" Eden stepped in, following this bold statement, and described the time when she was eight years old and saw Itzhak Perlman at Carnegie Hall and fell asleep in such a way that her mother was sure she was going to plummet over the balcony edge.

Eden began the second set with a Norwegian fiddle tune--some shades of Bruce Molsky (one of the true masters of old-time music) here--called "The Devil's Tune," which she compared to the sarabande from J.S. Bach's Cello Suite No. 1, which she then played. Pretty cool for a folk concert, huh?

Larry busted out a beautiful steel guitar to play a call-and-response tune called "I'm on My Way." This was followed by the "East Texas Rag" learned from a Lomax Collection recording. They played a few original tunes followed by a Transylvanian klezmer tune, which led several members of the crowd to dance around the edges of the hall. And they ended the set with the Romani national anthem, "Gelem Gelem," which precipitated some Romanian slap-dancing in the aisle by a couple of fifty-year-old women and involved some extended violin technique.

The encore kicked off with a jazzy song about suicide called "I'm Ready for the River." The fifty-year-old women who had been dancing in the aisle had reseated themselves in front of me and proceeded to engage in a form of seated moshing that I have never before witnessed in my many years of going to both folk concerts and punk shows. They banged into each other with increasing aggressiveness and flailing arms while remaining firmly seated in their chairs. I wish I had a photograph.

Thanks in no small part to the enthusiasm of these women, we were treated to a second encore, the "Rodeo Clown Rag."

My father had played the Notorious CD on his radio show, Profiles in Folk, the previous night, and I had not been that impressed. The sound of just violin and guitar is a little sparse on a CD, but live, Larry Unger and Eden MacAdam-Somer demonstrated themselves to be musicians and entertainers of the highest caliber. I hope that we'll see more of these guys. They would go over terrifically at Old Songs or Champlain Valley.

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