Ken Perlman & Alan Jabbour: Southern Summits
SAMPLE TUNE: Billy in the Low Land
2. Henry Reed’s Breakdown in A
3. Rocky Mountain Goat
5. Rocking the Babies to Sleep
6. Magpie / Greasy String
7. Bonaparte’s Retreat
8. Henry Reed’s Favorite
9. Rose Division
10. Chapel Hill Serenade / Green Willis
13. Sally Ann Johnson
14. Lady of the Lake
15. Hell up Cole Holler
16. Sandy Boys
17. Rochester Schottische
18. The Honeymoon
19. Henry Ford Waltz
20. Washington’s March
Excerpts from the Accompanying Booklet
Written by Alan Jabbour
Ken and I met as instructors at Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, high in the Colorado Rockies, and soon discovered that we enjoyed making music together. Under Ken’s sway, I sallied into (and Southernized) a few Northern tunes. But mostly I tempted him back into the older Appalachian repertory he had originally explored a generation ago. Then came concerts and tours together, and now this CD. It has been a musical and personal pleasure for both of us.
Ken had played Appalachian tunes on banjo long before he discovered the great repertory of instrumental tunes from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. His visits to Prince Edward Island in the 1980s and 1990s, like my own Appalachian visits in the 1960s and 1970s, inspired him to immerse himself in the artistry of his new mentors. The result can be heard in his landmark CDs Island Boy and Northern Banjo. Meanwhile, I had retired from my years with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and I found myself performing more on the fiddle again. My CD A Henry Reed Reunion celebrated this happy transition in my life.
On this new CD, Southern Summits, Ken and I offer 21 fiddle-banjo duets. All but one come from Southern sources, and most are from the Southern Appalachians. That alone could account for our title, but we had more in mind. Exploring that great Southern invention, the fiddle-banjo ensemble, we’ve come to approach it as a conversation or negotiation between the banjo and the fiddle as musical equals — a “summit” in the diplomatic sense, you might say. Then again, the artistic challenge of each tune calls for a strategy for scaling its heights — a “summit” in the mountain-climbing sense.
We are mindful of our profound debt to the great generation of fiddlers — now all passed away — from whom we learned these tunes. Our one Northern tune comes from Prince Edward Island fiddler Archie Stewart. Three tunes come from Edden Hammons and his nephew Burl Hammons of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. A couple are from Vaughn Marley, Earl Shatterly, Lonnie Corsbie, Tinsey Clapp, and Harlan Coble in the North Carolina Piedmont; a couple are from Taylor Kimble and John Lewis along the Blue Ridge; one is from Ross Miller of Monroe County, West Virginia. And, once again, we are grateful to Henry Reed, of Glen Lyn, Virginia, who was the source for no less than 14 of the 23 tunes recorded here — and, for most of them, the sole source. His performances (and more) can be found at the Library of Congress website Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection.
The Reviewers Speak
In the hands of fiddler Alan Jabbour and banjo player Ken Perlman, the 21 Southern Appalachian tunes on Southern Summits become living things, to be held, nurtured, fed and loved. Aside from their own distinctive talents as musicians, the fact that both have spent much of their careers as field collectors and observers enables them to understand the tunes as a vital part of the culture that produced them, and not just as cool pieces of music. For those familiar with Jabbour’s back- ground, the presence of more than a dozen Henry Reed tunes will come as no surprise, but the nuances on favorites like “Sally Ann Johnson” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” are fascinating. Jabbour’s liner notes mention the essentially “conversational” nature of classic Appalachian fiddle-banjo duets, and what makes Southern Summits an unusual delight is the fact that Jabbour and Perlman are among the most articulate musicians that old-time music has to offer.
English Dance & Song:
Although several titles are familiar, there’s nothing ‘standard’ about the tunes or the playing. Jabbour and Perlman together play asif controlled by two halves of the same brain. It’s a wonderfully subtle performance displaying an effortless mastery that comes from a lifetime of living with the material and the source players. If you like southern American music, this could be a Desert Island Disc!
This excellent release is notable for several things, beginning with the fact that it ranks among the very best efforts either of these veteran performershas committed to record. Even more importantly, it’s just a great listen, with one good tune following another all the way through.
In duo, the fiddle and banjo are much freer to combine in all kinds of ways than they are when backed by guitar. They can double the melody,play in octaves or harmony, or switch back and forth between these approaches, without the nuances being drowned out. Perlman’s hand is especiallyfree to move between clawhammer and picking styles, and from melody to harmony, counterpoint, or backup. All of which is what the banjo is for,one might say, but you rarely hear it to such advantage. Perlman responds with the most forceful playing I’ve heard from him, and Jabbour is at the topof his form.
I settle in for a six-hour journey in my car, inserting a new CD into the player. “Billy in The Low Land” suddenly but elegantly reaches my ears with the sound I love the most-fiddle and banjo, and I’m immediately transfixed. While listening to this beautiful tune I flashed back to a journey thirty years ago dragging my newly acquired banjo to the Brandywine Mountain Music Convention. When I got back to my home in the city the sounds of Appalachian fiddle tunes from The Hollow Rock String Band, The Fuzzy Mountain String Band and others would enter my world for the very first time. The liner notes would document many tunes credited to West Virginia fiddler Henry Reed. It was Alan Jabbour who took interest in recording and collecting those tunes from Mr. Reed, which in turn helped spark a revival of Appalachian fiddle-tune players far and wide, and catching the interest of urban and city dwellers like myself eager to play this music.
Alan describes the playing as “a conversation or negotiation between the banjo and fiddle as musical equals — a summit in the diplomatic sense, and also an artistic challenge to scale the heights of each tune — a summit in the mountain climbing sense.” This is poetry for two musicians who deliver the goods in their own personal and very competent style. Their intention is not to mimic anyone’s traditional playing technique, but to give us a good listening experience while respecting the tradition from which this music was passed on.
The music on this recording is an example of a brighter sound and more delicate feel than what old-time music typically sounds these days, but in a duo combination that fits like a glove. Ken Perlman’s intention and concentration is to be totally in synch with the fiddle at all times. As a duet, the banjo is acting somewhat similar to what a pianist might do to accompany a fiddle player. I love the way Ken varies his accompaniment to include chord patterns, and shifting notes within those chord changes. Ken has a precise attack when he plays melody or harmony, to match Alan’s timing and fiddle bow strokes, trills and ornaments. He uses his beautiful OME banjo, which is set up to give out a bright tone and minimal sustain, and which suits his playing style. An example of Ken’s shifting banjo strategy is how the gorgeous “Billy in the Lowland” begins with chord back-up the first time through, followed by strictly melody, then returns to chording again, followed by a mix of melody and harmony and then finally returning back to chord and melody.
Overall the sound is true to life, clean and bright, with I the fiddle taking the lead. The CD is filled with nice playing and technique from both gentlemen, with a repertoire that is interesting and varied throughout.
Old Time Herald:
Alan Jabbour pursued the music for itself, for its pure artistic quality. He revered the tunes, and expected those around him to understand that they should be handled with love and care. While Alan would be the first to point the listener to primary sources, his own fiddling is also a remarkable lens into the music of the fiddlers he has studied. To some degree this is precisely because Alan maintained a significant artistic distance from his sources. As a trained violinist, Alan brought (brings) a high technical proficiency to his playing. His left hand is precise, his noting accurate-but not hidebound by classical convention. He hears and plays the details of a tune, the tripleted embellishment, the variation that is itself repeated each second time through the phrase, the doubled open string. His bowing is equally precise, and equally observant. An Alan Jabbour tune, then, is a particular sort of thing. It is a tune recognizably from a particular source and played with a particular technical accuracy and discipline.
In Ken Perlman Alan has found a perfect partner for his style of artistic tune statement. Perlman has himself studied the tunes and spent much of his life in the search of source players. Among many projects, Perlman produced some years back the definitive field recordings of the fiddling of Prince Edward Island. His playing is accurate, precise, and it’s clear that Ken listens attentively to both the tune and the fiddler.
Thus: 21 Duets for Fiddle and Banjo . The fiddle and banjo duet has always been of particular note in the Appalachian fiddling tradition. The two instruments can twine the melody together and pass it back and forth, their ranges complementing each other to such an extent that, when a melodic banjo player like Perlman is involved, it will sometimes seems as though there might even be a second fiddle present-the duet on “Green Willis” is particularly striking to my ear in this respect, with each player passing the tune back and forth from the higher octave to the lower. This is not dance fiddling-although Alan and Ken could of course play one hell of a great dance if they wanted to. This is a specific, lovely thing they are doing, this presentation of 21 old tunes. And what it affords us all is the opportunity to hear the tunes with a clarity that is almost impossible when listening directly to the sources, or to contemporary musicians who are using the tunes in their conventional purpose, to drive a dance or a jam session, or as a vehicle for improvisation.
Alan Jabbour’s fiddle and Ken Perlman’s banjo have both been familiar sounds in the traditional music community in the United States for many decades, but this collection of banjo-fiddle duets is their first recording together. Jabbour’s and Perlman’s styles are well-matched, and this is a very beautiful set of tunes played with love for the music and care for details of the settings. One could imagine listening to the music on this CD in an elegant 19th century parlor. The tunes are exquisitely played and will be welcomed by lovers of old-time music.
A lovely collection of 21 fine fiddle & banjo duets by these two gentlemen who have been playing old-time music for many years. Their playing here is skilled but relaxed, tasteful and thoroughly musical—a good lesson for aspiring old time musicians. There is a wonderful selection of tunes, most of them learned from the playing of the legendary fiddlers Henry Reed and Edden Hammons. A superb and generous helping of fine old-time music here, highly recommended. Tunes include LADY OF THE LAKE, ROCHESTER SCHOTTISCHE, ROSE DIVISION, GREASY STRING, BIRDIE, BOATMAN, HELL UP COLE HOLLER, etc.