Jeremy Kittel Band, CSPS Hall, Cedar Rapids, IA, Saturday April 19, 2014.
Nathaniel: “I had nothing to do with that…”
Jeremy: “It didn’t last long though. We soon regressed into boob jokes”
Nathaniel: “I had a lot to do with that.”
Jeremy Kittel and his band mates ( Jeremy on Violin, joined by Nathaniel Smith on Cello, Joshua Pinkham on Mandolin and Simon Chrisman on Hammered Dulcimer) do have a certain “rock star” attitude. Not pompous or egocentric, rather, as the above exchange shows, rather irreverent considering the style of music they play. If you can’t already tell by the instruments they play, they are not a rock band by any means.
They’re not a classical or folk band either.
They’re the Jeremy Kittel Band, which is a hard group to categorize. With their mix of instruments, you could naturally assume they are a Celtic/Folk group, and that would be correct. They did play some traditional Irish reels and hornpipes.
Or, you could guess that they are something of a classical, chamber quartet. That would be accurate as well, because some of the original compositions they played had elements of chamber music in them.
They sang some songs, such as “Yesterday”, which would leave no doubt that they are a pop/folk group.
Their rendition of “Georgia on My Mind”, along with some other original tunes, would convince many they are a jazz ensemble.
So there you have it: The Jeremy Kittel Band is all these things.
I will say this about their performance Saturday night: if anyone stayed away because they assumed that a band made up of Violin, Cello, Mandolin and Hammered Dulcimer would be just another Celtic/Folk band, they missed the boat, big time. These guys stretch the limits of what can be done with their instruments, both technically and stylistically.
I was especially taken by Joshua’s mandolin playing. On many songs, he played as though it was an electric guitar in his hands, with riffs and bends and chord stylings more like what you would expect from Keith Richards or Eric Clapton than say, Bill Monroe. His playing was so outside the boundaries normally expected of mandolin in a group made up like this band, that I think if he could find a mandolin with a Floyd Rose whammy bar, he’d add a few Eddie Van Halen riffs to his repertoire. (It all sounded a lot better than it reads in this review.)
Nathaniel on cello added just the right mix of growling, hard bow rhythm lines with plucked bass progressions to really drive the groove on a lot of the songs. Simon’s duties on hammered dulcimer were equally adept at the unexpected styles they played. It’s an instrument with a certain delicate quality that immediately announces “Folksy type music” when you first hear it. However, Simon managed to take his playing beyond what most people would expect so that his dulcimer meshed perfectly with the aggressive styles of Josh and Nathaniel.
Then, of course, there is Jeremy. He’s obviously classically trained, and does regular solo orchestral work, but he pulls together a wide variety of influences into his own unique style. It’s hard to describe a jazz song played with Celtic riffs and some classical elements thrown in, but Jeremy does it in effective style. I was impressed by his opening verse of “Georgia on My Mind”: He played the melody using harmonics, which resulted in a unique rendition of a classic song.
I don’t want to leave you, gentle reader, with the impression that these guys are all work, stuffed-shirt virtuosos who put out great music that leaves people nodding in cerebral appreciation while sipping $7 glasses of Mernot. Their between song banter, as the quote at the top reveals, is more like the “Bob and Tom Show” than a “NPR Tiny Desk Concert”. They had the audience in stitches, especially when Jeremy had to make some adjustments to his violin mic. Nathaniel started playing a waltz rhythm on his cello, then Joshua and Simon joined in. This impromptu, mostly improvised number led to Jeremy simply laying down on the stage to let them continue while he “took a break”. “Best song of the night…” quipped Joshua.
That’s why I took such a liking to the Jeremy Kittel Band. They gave a passionate, virtuoso performance that defied convention, but they didn’t take themselves too seriously. The came across as a garage band that was much better, and quite different, than any garage band you are apt to hear.
When the Jeremy Kittel Band returns to CSPS Hall, (or any other time you have a chance to see them live) don’t let the mix of instruments dissuade you from coming to the show. They offer an evening of stunning music and great humor that breaks a lot of molds people associate with violin, cello, mandolin and hammered dulcimer.