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In from the Cold
The Red Light of Evening
KGB Tune Dossier
KGB Tune Dossier Vol. 2
KGB is the Seattle-based trio of Julie King, Claude Ginsburg and Dave Bartley, whose surname initials provide the group's name. They've been playing contradance music since 1993 (and the individual members are also active in other contradance ensembles), and have also branched out into concert performance. As Bartley says in the liner notes, "we have periodically stretched our fingers and brains on the concert stage."
So this isn't strictly a contradance record. Although you could conceivably put it on and use it as is for a contradance set, it's a little more sedate and focused on the tunes as opposed to the rhythm than would make ideal dance music. As Bartley says again, "along with the pulse of the dance you can hear rubato, breathing space, and plot twists that distinguish music for listening."
And this music is a joy to listen to, moving the heart as well as the feet.
First off, this album, like others by KGB, is aggressively self-produced. Bartley wrote nearly all of the tunes, with a few exceptions being one apiece by King and Ginsburg and a couple of traditional works. He also took the lead on production and arrangements, while King created the cover illustration and the band and record-label logos. And it's a class act all the way -- great packaging and nice liner notes in addition to the music.
As befits an ensemble that's been playing together for more than a decade, KGB's music is full of dynamic interplay. It's so well rehearsed that it provides the illusion of total spontaneity. Bartley's picking is clean and sharp yet soulful on guitars, mandolin, cittern and tenor banjo; Ginsburg's violin fluid and expressive and King's piano provides drive, rhythm and color. There's plenty of variety too, as Ginsburg also plays viola, concertina and bells, and King plays pump organ on a couple of tunes. There's a horn section on the '70s pop tune "Ring of Kohala," accordion and hurdy-gurdy on one tune set, and some Balkan sounds from tambura and kaval on "Mary's Jig," dedicated to Bartley's wife, who lately has taken on the "merch" job when the band's on tour (and who contributes the accordion to the "Rain on the Window" set).
In addition to lots of jigs, reels and marches, there's a hambo to start the second half of the set, written by Ginsburg; some Japanese and Chinese sounds in "Wasabi"; some bal musette in "Rain on the Window"; and some beautiful waltzes. With plenty of variety but no kitschy gimmicks, KGB has put together another sterling set of contradance-style music. In From The Cold will warm your heart.
- Gary Whitehouse