Many moons ago when I was just out of college and working in New York City, I read about and went into Central Park one weekend for a free music festival at the Bandshell there. It was sponsored by the then flourishing Fast Folk Magazine and featured an aggregation of the new wave of folk artists happening in the city at that time. I got to see Christine Lavin, John Gorka, Rod MacDonald and many others that afternoon. One stand out artist I remember was a fellow named John Kruth who played a mean Mandolin and had some catchy tunes to boot. Out here on the West Coast I later found one of his CDs which I still own and enjoy.
Now a Facebook friend, I was pleasantly surprised recently when I received a notification that Kruth and his new band TriBeCaStan were going to be playing here in the Bay Area as part of a rare West Coast tour. And it turned out to be a free show. Woo Hoo! I was so there.
In fact, I got some good friends to go along with me to The Starry Plough in Berkeley that Sunday afternoon and we all had a great time enjoying TriBeCaStan’s wonderful and at times amazing set (as well as an equally excellent bluesy set from Camper Van Beethoven’s Victor Krummenacher afterwards!).
A far journey from what Kruth was doing back in Central Park, TriBeCaStan’s sound is far more global in reach, creating a genuinely other-worldly / new-world music that blends, bends and morphs genres with free fall abandon. Middle Eastern instrumentation, weird whistles, electric Mandolin (he plays a Rickenbacker!), soaring Clarinets, jazzy Saxes and more all collide to create a wonderful post-psychedelic music trip that is at once fresh and familiar. One part Klezmer band, one part funky New Orleans soul (trombones!), this is the kind of fun music that can warm even the most hardened of hipster to get up and shake his or her booty.
The band was very generous in its outpouring of music both live (a nice long set!) and with their physical album releases — they charge only $10 per CD at the shows! I bought all three of the ones they had available (and made sure to leave a nice tips in the box supporting both of the bands — remember to support us independent musicians, folks!).
I’m working my way through these albums and they present a good representation of the music we heard/saw that Sunday. Songs like the opener to 5 Star Cafe, “Back When Tito Had Two Legs,” sounds like a mutant cross between Dave Grisman, The Ventures and The Violent Femmes. “(When You’ve Worn Out Your Shoes, Its Time To Get) A New Foot” is a fun, funky bluegrass-inspired jam, replete with a groovy Jews Harp solo and banjo plunkin’. Their latest, New Songs From The Old Country, is particularly fine, with the opening track, “Bwiti,” sounding like some lost Mingus outtake. You can’t not like a song like “Corned Beef and Sake” which mixes Celtic, Asian and a swinging jazz melody that sounds like the theme to an alternate universe TV detective series from the 1960s. This music travels upward and onward around the globe.
Take a look at the liner notes and we see that these guys are well tapped into many luminaries: Al Kooper plays organ and guitar on the album, fer gawdsakes! Kenny Margolis (from Cracker) is on keyboards and accordions. Heck, at the show they even had the original drummer from The Blues Project with them (Kruth and Margolis are part of their current line up, according to the Wiki). TriBeCaStan’s own Jeff Greene is a master of world music instruments and percussion, switching live on stage between vibes, Jews Harp and a Koto like instrument with ease and grace. I think he was the one who jumped off the stage at one point for a little Russian / Gypsy type dance. If I’m not mistaken he also played a dual recorder solo during the set — shades of Roland Kirk, for sure.
TriBeCaStan put on an inspiring show and that passion extends to their albums. You should check them out live and also get their CDs. They sound really nice despite their inherent digital-ness, conveying the warmth of the mostly acoustic sounds yet with occasional electric touches. Maybe one day if they get big enough we’ll get to hear them on vinyl or better still a nice 5.1 surround sound recording. I would love to hear this band recorded and mixed in a very immersive manner; putting the listener in the middle of the group would be amazing.
I’m still taking this all in, but I think by now you get the idea. You should check this band out.
TriBeCaStan is, in a word, fun!
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.