By Roland Sturm

Haberdashery.jpgHaberdashery is a new group from Los Angeles and just released their first CD. And what a fine first project it is! Haberdashery is hard to classify stylistically, but if you like Astor Piazolla, you'll enjoy them. Maybe it could be described as a mixture of Tango, Jazz, Folk, Gypsy, and French music, but that is not too helpful either. You just have to hear it and you can get samples on their website.

The musicianship is very impressive, the technique of classically trained musicians with the energy and drive of folk music and the improvisational skill of jazz. They are a classy band (not to mention a very well dressed band).

Led by double bassist Brandon Turner, the musicians on the CD include Gee Rabe on accordion, Chris Luther on violin/viola, and Dan Cole on guitar. Brandon composed the material on this CD and he recently received a grant from the American Composers Forum, which helps emerging composers produce new music. Dan is the director of Commercial Music Studies at Pasadena City College and works as a sideman and session player around Southern California. Chris grew up playing a variety of Celtic and American fiddle traditions and his family runs the Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp. He is currently a doctoral student in USC music program. Gee Rabe freelances with many Los Angeles groups including regular performances with Vaud and the Villains a folk, blues and zydeco band. As a session player Gee has recorded for numerous film and television projects, most recently her accordion can be heard on the CBS soap opera Young and the Restless.

The instrumentation gives Haberdashery a wide range of timbres and this all instrumental CD never gets boring. While Chris Luther's fiddle takes most of the lead work, it is a very organic ensemble sound, not a violin solo with backup. Nor is it the stale bluegrass or jazz formula where everybody predictably takes a solo. Haberdashery's music is more cohesive.

Is it traditional folk music? Certainly not, but Haberdashery gives a new spin to many traditional themes. It is more sophisticated than typical folk music, yet remains very listenable, and generally avoids the trap of being overly artsy. Nothing is perfect, though, and one misstep was adding the crackly telephone voice in French on Cher Fido, a track that otherwise wouldn't deserve the skip button.

As the talent coordinator for the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Festival and Peter Strauss Ranch concerts, I regularly get new material, especially prior to the Festival. Haberdashery' Illuminated Road has been the CD I have been most impressed with so far in 2009 and I have listened to it many times. I hope you can hear Haberdashery live in 2010 at the Peter Strauss Ranch or maybe the Festival.

Roland Sturm is Professor of Policy Analysis at the RAND Graduate School and usually writes on health policy, not music. He is the talent coordinator of the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest and leads the monthly Celtic sessions at CTMS. These days he mainly plays upright bass and mandolin.