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12/31/12

Tin Hat
The Rain is a Handsome Animal
New Amsterdam

Jazz and poetry may have a closer affinity than dance and architecture, to twist everyone’s favorite analogy regarding writing about music, but poets generally have been more successful in adapting jazz than jazz artists have been in incorporating poetry. In creating a song cycle out of e.e. cummings’ works, Tin Hat has two advantages: One, the spatial and rhythmic cues provided by the poems, as they appear on the page, are tailor-made for the West Coast band’s airy multi-instrumental approach; and two, jazz is one stylistic road of many this group travels on, allowing them to capture both cummings’ playful, rebellious spirit and mystical, ecstatic streak.

Tin Hat is no stranger to literary projects: Their 2006 recording, The Sad Machinery of Spring, was inspired by the fiction of Polish visionary Bruno Schulz. But The Rain Is a Handsome Animal breaks new ground in featuring cofounder Carla Kihlstedt as a singer as well as a violinist. Her forcefully articulated but relaxed vocals ground the compositions as art songs, even as the musical settings by all four members (including the newest, accordionist Rob Reich) evoke Monk and the Hot Club of Paris, Americana and Broadway, chamber music and klezmer.

On his third album as a fulltime member of Tin Hat, clarinetist Ben Goldberg embodies poetry with gorgeous, floating, emotionally charged lines. His contra alto clarinet ostinato on “Unchanging,” about falling snow, is winter incarnate. Arranged by guitarist/keyboardist Mark Orton, the other original member, “Buffalo Bill” is a moody tour de force with its strummed piano, rueful brass and stark delivery of the line “How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?” Kihlstedt will never sing sweeter than she does on “2 Little Whos,” or play more eerily than she does on e-string violin on “Little i.” Like poetry, these songs deepen each time you absorb them.

Originally published in December 2012
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