Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Alan Jabbour and Ken Perlman in Champaign

It's been quiet around here lately, huh?

Well, let me take you back to earlier this month -- November 2nd -- when Sarah and I headed over to the Techline furniture showroom, full of sleek home decorating options, to hear some old-time fiddle and banjo tunes from two great masters of the genre: Alan Jabbour and Ken Perlman.

I associate Alan Jabbour with the album American Fiddle Tunes. Originally released in 1971 and drawing on recordings in the Library of Congress' Archive of Folk Songs (of which Jabbour had become director in 1969), Rounder reissued it in 2000 on CD. I immediately started spinning the CD on WKCR's Moonshine Show, pronouncing, "If you like old-time fiddle music, you must go out and buy this CD." Some of my favorites from the compilation were Luther Strong's "The Hog-Eyed Man" and "Cumberland Gap" and W.H. Stepp's "Bonaparte's Retreat," which Aaraon Copland famously used for inspiration for the "Hoe-Down" movement of Rodeo.

I associated Jabbour's name with the collection, and if you had asked me if he was performing, I would not have known the answer.

But now, having seen him play, I am quite pleased to report that he is indeed still performing and would be well worth seeking out to see live.

The two sets of music that the musicians played largely revolved around Jabbour's late-1960s field trips to the home of southwest Virginia fiddler Henry Reed. From the opening tunes -- "Billy in the Lowlands" and "Henry Reed's Breakdown" -- Jabbour walked us through the tunes that he had learned from Henry Reed, remarking on where Reed himself had learned them and what other known tunes they resembled. It was a history lesson of the type that I fear might be disappearing.

Reed's repertoire ranged from early African-American ragtime tunes like "High Yellow" to Tin Pan Alley's adoption of the ragtime sound in "Ragged Bill" to the more standard Virginia fiddle stylings of the "West Virginia Rag" and "West Virginia Gals."

Jabbour and Perlman's fiddle and banjo bounced off and around each other in delightful and complex ways. Although Perlman did not have much to say while Jabbour was telling the stories of Henry Reed and (consequently) his own musical education, his banjo played interlocked melodies with Jabbour's fiddle rather than just chunky chords or simple bass runs.

And Perlman twice stepped to the fore. In the first set, Jabbour talked about Perlman as the inventor of the melodic banjo style -- Bill Keith's name and claim to that to that innovation were not mentioned -- and about his banjo transcriptions of fiddle tunes from Prince Edward Island. From the Prince Edward Island tradition, Perlman played a "Scottish Set" solo, and then Jabbour joined him for "Jack Webster's Reel."

In the second set, one of Jabbour's fiddle strings started to fray, so while he tended to that, Perlman did a set of jigs, talking about New York City Irish sessions and how he would be expected to be quiet on the jigs (since they were not easy to play on the banjo) -- something that he took as a challenge, such that he went home and figured out how to play the jigs on the banjo.

All in all, it was a great night of stories and music. To find out what the "Flying Cloud" is in the "Flying Cloud Cotillion" or why the last tune of the show (before a well-deserved encore) was called "The Fiddler's Drunk, and the Fun's All Over," you'll have to go see them yourself.

1 comment:

3shells said...

This sounds great, Matt.