Some metaphors are obvious, but unavoidable. For instance, “roots and branches” has become a hugely popular term to describe the relationship between traditional music and its many outgrowths.
“Roots & Branches” also is the name of BCMFest’s Friday night opening concert, and with good reason. This event serves as a kind of overview of the festival, celebrating the music traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton and other Celtic lands, as well as the music forms that have sprung from those traditions. And the Roots and Branches concert is often a showcase for the many talented young musicians in the Greater Boston area, who explore new interpretations of those music traditions they cherish.
Here’s a look at the performers in this year’s edition of Roots & Branches:
•Native New Jerseyan Mark Kilianski came to Boston as a jazz guitarist, and to study more of the same at Berklee College of Music. But he found himself drawn to the folk/trad sounds around town, and began playing Irish, bluegrass, Quebecois and just about anything fiddle-driven. After performing as part of a duo, The Whiskey Boys, for a few years, Mark decided to branch out into some new musical experiences, including collaborations with Virginia-born fiddler Bronwyn Keith-Hynes and B.B. Bowness, a banjo player from New Zealand to explore connections between Celtic, bluegrass and old-timey.
“I believe that Boston’s strong Irish roots make the city fertile as a trad hotbed, and the seeds are sewn by being a mecca of education,” says Mark. “You bring young, talented people to a place where the tradition is strong and you get young, dedicated musicians with a love for trad music. I was playing in rock bands and studying jazz in New Jersey, but the bluegrass and Celtic music scenes blind-sided me when I got to Berklee. It’s so rich, and there are so many good bands and musicians here.”
Is it tricky merging those different styles together? Not when you play with two people like Bronwyn and B.B., he says.
“The most difficult thing about genre-hopping is playing with the right groove. It’s easy to play the right notes and chords, but to play with the right accents, lilt and nuances take a keen ear and lots of practice. Bronwyn, B.B. and I understand those distinctions in bluegrass and Irish music, so we can bridge the two pretty fluidly. That is also why I love playing with those two gals, and on top of that they’re both great improvisors and hard workers, so there’s lots of room to create and grow together as musicians.”
•Sorry, but contrary to what their name implies, NØÍR does not perform soundtracks from “The Maltese Falcon” or “The Big Sleep” or “Double Indemnity” or other classic film noir. The South Shore-based trio of Stuart Peak (guitar, bouzouki), Torrin Ryan (uilleann pipes) and Mark Oien (fiddle, hardingfele) plays the seemingly unlikely combination of Norwegian (“NØ”) and Irish (“IR”) traditional music.
Stuart and Mark were hosting sessions when Mark first came up with the idea of a band that would incorporate his family’s cultural heritage. After trying a few different line-ups, they brought in their friend Torrin who “fit like a glove,” recounts Stuart. “We knew we had something unique.”
Unique though it may be, the Norwegian-Irish musical connection works quite well, according to Stuart, one of the most active Irish music session players you’re liable to meet in Eastern Massachusetts.
“Both genres of music are highly danceable. They both evoke certain emotions in a similar way. There might be different rhythms in the music, but either can get your feet tapping. The slower Norwegian tunes also have that somber, lonesome sound like so many of the haunting airs in Irish music. There are traditional dances set to certain pieces just like Irish music. While most Norwegian tunes are very distinct, there are some that have almost the exact same melodic phrases as Irish music. Certain tunes in Irish music really lend themselves to being played on the hardanger fiddle, while certain Norwegian tunes have always been played on a regular fiddle. It’s pretty enlightening stuff once you start comparing the two.”
•Much like Mark Kilianski, New York native Kathleen Parks wasn’t all that familiar with Boston’s music scene until she moved here in 2012 to attend Berklee College of Music. She was immediately struck by the high level of activity she saw among both Berklee faculty and students, and knew she was in the right place.
“I thought it would be difficult to gig, but then I moved here and met so many musicians I instantly clicked with,” says Parks, who had studied under legendary Irish fiddler Brian Conway.
More than a year alter, Parks has made herself right at home in Boston, having co-founded Cat and the Moon, which is making its BCMFest debut. Joining Parks are Ricky Mier (banjo), Eamon Sefton (guitar and bodhran), Charles Berthoud (bass) and, more recently, Elias Alexander (percussion) in presenting a thoroughly eclectic blend of Celtic, bluegrass, jazz and original material, drawing on influences that run the gamut: Jean-Luc Ponty, Bela Fleck, John Doyle, Chris Thile, Eileen Ivers, Thelonius Monk and Django Reinhardt, among others.
Meanwhile, Parks’ education continues, and she couldn’t be happier about it: “Now I am finding out just how lively the music scene in Boston is and how easy it is to find places and events to play and make a name for yourself.”
The BCMFest 2014 Roots & Branches Concert begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 10, at Club Passim. For more information about the event, and the rest of BCMFest, go here.