in performance: the jerry douglas band

jerry douglas

jerry douglas

Late into his stylistically and technically stunning performance last night at the Southgate House in Newport, Jerry Douglas outlined a tune he co-wrote over two decades ago with longtime guitar pal Russ Barenberg called Pushed Too Far. A typically breathtaking display of the wiry, wily ingenuity the one-time Lexingtonian has long been known for designing on the dobro, the tune was penned for a songwriting context in Weiser, Idaho that required all competing compositions to cram at least 25 notes into the first bar.

Pushed Too Far took home no trophies back then. But last night, with guitarist Guthrie Trapp ably taking Barenberg’s place, the song summed up an acoustic music approach rooted in bluegrass instrumentation but rigged with the kinds of technical demands that approximate jazz fusion. The complexities of such material, though, in no way stifled the music itself.

For example, on an immensely respectful cover of Josef Zawinul’s gorgeous Weather Report ballad A Remark You Made, dobro effectively translated the deep tenor sax remorse performed on the original version by Wayne Shorter while Luke Bulla employed fiddle drones to reflect Zawinul’s powerfully emotive orchestration on keyboards.

The bluegrass roots showed more prominently during the merry fiddle and dobro exchanges of The Emphysema Two Step while the deep pocket bass grooves of Todd Parks neatly balanced out the grassy, runaway string leads on Union House Branch.

A stirring affirmation of the great Shetland fiddler Aly Bain titled Sir Aly B ended the evening with a lovely Scottish air that was geographically, emotively and stylistically removed from the songwriting contest trials of Weiser. But then, as the entire program proved, Weiser’s loss was our enormous gain.

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