Tony Trischka's big new deal

Tony Trischka Band

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., March 5, 2003) – The genre-bending, Americana fusion music on Tony Trischka’s new album, “New Deal” (Rounder), which came out earlier this week, is no big, new deal. Banjoist Trischka has always had one foot firmly planted in the bluegrass world, while the other has danced all over the musical map.

But it’s that other foot that’s always been the most interesting thing about Trischka throughout his 30 year career. From the very beginning, the banjoist has looked beyond the confines of traditional music as a player and as a bandleader. And on “New Deal,” the Tony Trischka Band has come up with a terrific, timely fusion of acoustic American roots music with jazz, funk, r&b and even Asian music.

While Trischka hasn’t so much changed his approach over the years, time has finally caught up to him and his ilk. The more creative arm of the jam-band movement – the wing that has championed Trischka’s protégé, Bela Fleck, and other like-minded rootsy experimentalists like Phish and the Yonder Mountain String Band – has caught onto roots-fusion pioneers like Trischka, and bookings at jam-band festivals and rock nightclubs now equal those at bluegrass hoedowns and folk venues.

“The whole jam-band thing has been positive for our band,” said Trischka earlier this week in an email interview. “It’s not that we started out to put together a ‘jam band.’ I just wanted to get some people together to play music that I’d recorded back in 1973 and 1974 on my first two albums, ‘Bluegrass Light’ and ‘Heartlands.’

“Back then I was being heavily influenced by jazz fusioneers like Miles Davis and his offspring, Chick Corea, Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and Weather Report. Since I was a banjo player, the bluegrass influence just crept in. A lot of my music over the years has been eclectic and hard to pigeonhole. So now that there’s a jam-band scene full of people who don’t try to categorize or put walls between musics, it’s been a good match. We can do our rocky, bluegrassy, jazzy thing -- and throw in a tad of Japanese music -- and people don’t flinch.”

There’s nothing to flinch at on “New Deal.” With Trischka’s tight band, including saxophonist Michael Amendola, bassist Bob Bowen, drummer Scott Neumann and guitarist/vocalist Rolf Sturm, and a slew of guest vocalists including David Johansen, Jennifer Kimball, Loudon Wainwright and Laurel Masse, the album is an entertaining musical journey that touches down in James Brown territory on the amusing Ernest Hemingway tribute, “Big Papa Rides Again,” leaps to psychedelic Britpop with Kimball’s dreamy vocals on “Northern Falling,” and rides to Japan on a Dave Brubeck-like koto riff on “Quasi Qoto.”

More like a roots-jazz group than a jam band, the Trischka Band avoids the cliché noodlings of the latter in favor of the musical ingenuity and well-constructed, melodic sensibility of the former. “In some ways we have elements of both, but in the end, we’re just doing what comes naturally to us and not thinking of ourselves as a jam band,” said Trischka, who celebrates the release of his new CD with his band at Club Helsinki next Thursday, March 13, at 8.

Grupo Fantasma

Wherever Grupo Fantasma plays is where jam-band meets salsa, where cumbia meets ska, where DJ meets merengue, and where funk meets East L.A. garage-rock. The eponymous album by the Austin-based, 10-member outfit – which brings its unique, genre-bending, Latin/hip-hop fusion to Club Helsinki tonight at 9 – could well be what Los Lobos’s debut album would have sounded like had the group been twice as large and formed today instead of 30 years ago.

Alpha Yaya Diallo

In Williamstown, the Clark Art Institute’s “Out of Africa” concert series continues tomorrow night at 8 with a performance by Alpha YaYa Diallo. A native of Guinea, now based in Vancouver, Canada, singer/guitarist Diallo lays down the circular lines and patterns of traditional West African music on top of a bed of American funk and Senegalese mbalax.

Cathy Grier

As heard on her new solo CD, “Comin’ Back to Me” (Shane Music), singer-songwriter Cathy Grier is a soulful singer and a bluesy guitarist, one part Laura Nyro (for whom she once warmed up a crowd), one part Bonnie Raitt. A Connecticut native, Grier lived in France for several years, where she wound up writing for French-Algerian guitarist Pierre Bensusan, who comes to the Clark on March 22. Grier performs tomorrow night at 8 at the Spencertown (N.Y.) Academy – all proceeds of the show will go to a fund committed to improving the lighting at the Academy.

Berkshire musicians website

Guitarist Brian Livsey of Savoy has created a musicians’ bulletin board on the Internet for local musicians to post free classified ads about equipment for sale, musicians wanted, and upcoming gigs. Recent postings included a request for a lead vocalist to join a duo, a band needed to back a blues-rock singer, a drummer needed for an oldies band, and a Marlen pedal-steel guitar for sale. Visit for more information.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 7, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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