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February 23, 2013 - 5:43pm

John Jorgenson plays diverse set to an intimate crowd at the Ark



Hearing John Jorgenson and his band play is the closest I’ll ever get to teleporting or traveling through time. These four acoustic masters sound like they’ve lived a lifetime in every region of the world, and they play like they have two hours to tell you everything you need to know about music, culture and history. I’ve never been to a beach in Greece, but when John Jorgenson pulls out his bouzouki, I’m lying on the sand in the balmy Mediterranean breeze, wearing a tunic.

An audience of less than one hundred surrounded John Jorgenson and his three bandmates this Thursday at the Ark. I felt like I had stumbled into their living room when I found myself sitting sidestage, listening to stories about a lifetime of music and global experience. John Jorgenson relished the personal atmosphere, and between small talk with a drunk woman in the audience and a reminiscent conversation with a fan about one of his previous albums, he made it clear that they appreciated being able to perform in such a pure acoustic atmosphere. “We don’t have Auto-Tune,” he said. “We all actually play our instruments.” He later complimented the sound man on his lack of involvement, saying, “A lot of sound guys try to control our dynamics…we try to play really quiet and they turn us up…thanks for not doing that.”

With nothing but their wood, fibers and their hands between them and their music, they were fully in control. The drummer, Rick Reed, had a simple three-piece kit that he played alternately with his brushes and his hands, but the groove he produced was enormous. He would lock into a rumba, hitting his snare like a conga, but five minutes later he would be rolling through a fast gypsy swing with his left leg pumping the hi-hat and his brushes slapping the backbeat.

Simon Planting, the bassist, was deep in the pocket, too, and between fast walks and soft bow strokes he filled the room with presence like a subwoofer. He played with his neck craned down toward the fretboard as if his bass was whispering directions in his ear and his long hair flowed down like a curtain between the audience and his intentions.

With a perpetual smile on his face, violinist Jason Anick filled the high end with jazzy slurs, captivating tremolos and romantic gypsy melodies. Sometimes trading fours with Jorgenson and sometimes taking the floor with long chromatic runs and lilting solos, he was the “singer” of the group – that is, when John Jorgenson wasn’t on the mic.

John Jorgenson led the band with contributions on the guitar, clarinet, bouzouki and vocals. He was part of the rhythm section and he was the melody at the same time — he would frequently rip through a high chromatic run in unison with the violin and then fall into a chord progression instantaneously, supporting the music and expressing the composition in whatever way was necessary.

Together, the four of them nailed a set of songs from every culture. They played old-time country, French and Greek music, rumba, lots of gypsy jazz and an old tune by Fats Waller. In a set with such variety, they maintained a common theme of powerful rhythm and enthralling emotion. Never has a concert left me so determined to both travel everywhere in the world and to sit down and practice music all day long.