Darol Anger launched his fiddling career in the mid-70s playing jazzy bluegrass with the much respected David Grisman Quintet before heading off to a place where respect would be hard to come by: Windham Hill Records. The label’s initial premise–merging ECM jazz and John Fahey’s primitivist folk–usually sounded better in theory than in practice, but Anger’s recordings were brave and mostly successful attempts to make it work; 1982’s Tideline, a collaboration with pianist Barbara Higbie, and 1985’s Chiaroscuro, with mandolin player and fellow Grisman vet Mike Marshall, are LPs well worth scouring used bins and yard sales for. In recent years Anger’s expanded his stylistic range, exploring Cajun, Appalachian, Celtic, and African music with a growing number of projects. His latest, the American Fiddle Ensemble, is an attempt to gather his interests into one place; going for a rootsier sound than he did with the Turtle Island String Quartet, he’s assembled one of his most immediately accessible and intriguing groups. On Republic of Strings (Compass) Anger and his cohorts–guitarist Scott Nygaard and a pair of phenoms, fiddler Brittany Haas and cellist Rushad Eggleston–tinker with enough different structures to qualify as a jazz-fusion outfit, but fusion rarely has this kind of warmth, intelligence, and restraint. At the album’s best moments–Anger’s freewheeling, Ellingtonian “Sneezin’,” the dissonant Brazilian choro “Andre de Sabato Nuovo,” and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”–the AFE seems peerless at mapping the intersection of jazz, folk, and pop. Sunnyside Up opens. $20, $18 for members, $16 for seniors and children. Friday, August 20, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anne Hamersky.