Ever had a fever dream, those slippery scenes that play themselves out in your mind's eye as your body tries to rid itself of whatever bacterial or viral infection you happen to be suffering from? Sometimes, fever dreams can be terrifying—your waking self isn't quite rooted in reality when your body temperature rises above the 101-degree range and, if you've taken cold or flu medicine, the line between what's real and imagined becomes even more clouded.
But fever dreams can also be quite entertaining in a whimsical kind of way. It's as if some bizarre and tantalizing carnival has invaded your psyche, and the hawkers and performers are doing their level best to confuse and delight you with a host of things that make sense only to them. It's these instances, I believe, that your brain attempts to provide a little comic relief in the midst of physical illness. And with much the same purpose, the Tin Hat Trio make acoustic curiosities that don't quite belong in jazz—or any other genre, for that matter. Their compositions are manifested as freewheeling chamber music for postmodern America, as jovial expressions of alternate musical thought.
Far from the experimental music of John Cage, LaMonte Young or John Zorn, though, the Tin Hat Trio use complex compositions rooted in Old World Europe as a starting point, and then divert the music through Candyland only to wind up with a vibrant meld of everything from bluegrass to tango, all with an edge that's decidedly avant-garde. Featuring Rob Burger on accordion, pump organ, piano and harmonica; violinist/violist Carla Kihlstedt, who has worked with Zorn and the ROVA saxophone Quartet, the Grassy Knoll, Mr. Bungle, Tom Waits and others, Mark Orton on guitar, banjo and dobro, and recent additions Bjork harpist Zeena Parkins and avant garde tuba master Bryan Smith, the Tin Hat Trio released their debut in 1999 to broad critical acclaim. For the new century, the group released Helium (Angel) a year later, an album that cemented them as America's premier chamber-jazz ensemble. The Rodeo Eroded (Ropeadope) was released in 2002, and the group are currently touring on the strength of their fourth album, the deeply emotional Book of Silk (Ropeadope).
Intriguing to the nth degree and full of unexpected twists and turns, the trio's music is, as Billboard states, "The sound of the other Young America." If innovation is your bag, then prepare to have it filled.