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The marriage of jazz and country music has a long and colorful history. In writer Geoffrey Himes' excellent article, "Jazz and Country Fusion: The Searchers" (JazzTimes, December 2008), he explores how this history contains everyone from saxophonist Sonny Rollins, bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Bill Frisell, to banjoist Bela Fleck and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Defining "country music," however, is probably as difficult as defining "jazz": there are enough subdivisions and original players between the two genres to create any number of hybrids. Such abundance is precisely why this fusion is so exciting, and also why fiddler Katie Glassman's Snapshot is such a musical treat.
Part of what makes Glassman unique is the many years she has spent studying and playing both genres. A Denver native who started fiddling at age nine, her accolades include winning the national Junior Fiddle Championship in 1998 and Colorado State Fiddle Championship in 2011. But she also studied jazz and classical violin at the University of Colorado, becoming the first violinist from there to receive a certificate in jazz studies. On top of her instrumental chops, Glassman sings in a sweet breathy soprano, seamlessly blending both genres in her distinctive phrasing.
Fifteen of the sixteen tunes on Snapshot are Glassman originals. Because these songs emanate from her inner musical world, they're not simply jazz songs recast in a country way or vice versashe has melded her muses and truly created her own language. Glassman's fiddling is magnificent throughout, cheerfully shape-shifting between hot jazz stylings of Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti and the Western swing fiddling heard in Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Most tunes fall under the five-minute mark, ranging from the energetic swing of "Uncle John" to the delicately pensive "Pretty Pictures" to the high, lonesome sound of "Deer Brush Waltz." Glassman is also blessed with excellent accompanists; standouts include Gabriel Mervine's warm trumpet weaving throughout "Devil's Plea," John Macy's twanging steel guitar on "Takin' My Baby Along," and Greg Harris' fine vibraphone work on the haunting "Rain, Rain."
This music is delightfully without category; just when you are sure it's one thing, you hear another strand. Is "bluegrazz" a word? Perhaps it should be, since this language continues to grow in leaps and bounds, creating an amalgam of sound that is genuinely fresh to the ears.
Track Listing: Uncle John; Snapshot; Devil’s Plea; Ma Liason Avec La France; Takin’ My Baby Along; Molly
Song; Fly Away Lil’ Girl; Bye Bye Boise; Rain, Rain; Pretty Pictures; Long White Dress; 1000
Shades of Blues; Honey Pie; Deer Brush Waltz; Goodbye Mr. Heartache; The Accomplice.
Personnel: Katie Glassman-Salzberg: fiddle, vocals, guitar (6), accordion (16); Eric Moon: piano, B3
organ, toy piano, accordion; Eric Thorin: bass, tuba; Christian Teele: drums; Yaniv
Salzberg: guitar (7, 11, 14), harmony vocals (1, 5); Gabriel Mervine: trumpet (2, 3, 9, 13);
Sean McGowan: guitar (1, 3, 5, 8, 9, 13, 15); M’hamed El Menjra: guitar (2, 4); Paul Musso:
guitar (10); Andrea McGowan: harmony vocals (7, 10, 11); Billy Contreras: fiddle (5, 8);
Regan Kane: violin (6); Wesley Michaels: cello (6, 10); Greg Harris: vibraphone (9); John
Macy: steel guitar (5, 15); Sally Van Meter: dobro (7, 11, 14); Sam Bush: mandolin (14).
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.