High Powered Picking
Banjo player 'extraordinaire' holds a summit at Sweetwater
By Matt Kramer
Not long after I'd finally figured out that the Bluegrass Gold series-housed at the Sweetwater-usually held court on Tuesdays, it shuffled down the calendar into the Wednesday spot. And for the next edition, it's sliding farther afield to Thursday, when East Bay-based banjo player extraordinaire Bill Evans brings his brand new band, the Bill Evans String Summit, to Marin.
Evans-well known for his solo projects and for work with Dry Branch Fire Squad, Bluegrass Intentions, Due West, Jody Stecher, and many others-put together the all things strings super-group last year. The Bill Evans String Summit first performed at Warren Hellman's super gift: the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Now some of the personnel has changed, but the name remains the same. The Bill Evans String Summit may sound to some like a lofty claim of a name, but Evans has been called one of the best banjo pickers on the planet, and he's gathered together bandmates comparable caliber.
Joining Evans in this sextet are bassist Cindy Browne, who's got jazz and bluegrass ingrained in her soul (and she'll perform with another of her bands, Wake The Dead, at Rancho Nicasio for St. Patrick's Day); Scott Nygaard on acoustic guitar; the fiddling duo (aka the Clarridge Fiddlers) of Tashina Clarridge and Tristan Clarridge (who also plays a mean cello); and Michael Witcher, who tours as part of Dolly Parton's band, on the dobro. The inter-generational ensemble will concentrate on original instrumental pieces, many from Evans' two solo CDs.
And my hat's off to show opener Rick Jamison for his newly released CD, The Magic Hour. Jamison, an acoustic guitar player and vocalist, used to lead a band called Copper Canyon before he relocated up Sebastopol way. I tuned in to KPFA a couple Sundays ago just in time to catch a speedy scorcher of a tune; it was so good I stopped everything I was doing. I just sat in front of the speakers with my eyes closed, and simply soaked in the sound, hoping I'd soon learn who was spicing up the airwaves. Fortunately, as soon as the song ended, the DJ said something like "That was Rick Jamison doing 'Crunch Time' from his new disc, The Magic Hour." That instrumental tune features Megan Lynch on the fiddle and some hot picking by Jamison and mandolin player Erik Thomas, too. Wow!
When I stopped by the office soon afterward, there, back in the cluttered corner where my mail piles up, was a copy of The Magic Hour. (Thanks to all involved!) The rest of the hour-long (hence, the title) recording has been a toe-tapping pleasure during this rainy week. Complementing the musicianship are fine vocals and harmonizing. Cindy Browne of the Bill Evans String Summit played bass on the disc, although Jamison will reportedly be working almost solo during Thursday's performance. Series host Larry Carlin will give Jamison a couple helping hands on bass, and Keystone Crossing/Keystone Station's Claudia Hampe may pitch in with some vocals.
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This page updated 12/2/05