In describing the intent and the design of his string music, Jeremy Kittel quickly offers a familiar idiom: “God is in the details.”
But in perusing the full scope of the Brooklyn-based violinist’s work life – a career that has him shuffling duties as an arranger, collaborator and all-around musical architect – it becomes clear that it is in establishing detail and exactness that he thrives.
It could be through the string arrangements that Kittel penned for My Morning Jacket’s 2001 album, Circuital; the five years he spent with San Francisco’s groundbreaking Turtle Island String Quartet; or the instructional work he engages in with clinics around the country.
The impetus, though, remains the music itself: a fluid string sound that combines elements of Celtic lyricism, chamber-like ambience, bluegrass construction and jazz phrasing. Tonight, Kittel puts his band’s name on just such a hybrid for a performance at Danville’s Norton Center for the Arts.
“On one hand, there is the beauty of the genre, of when a community has made their sound so rich and so full of detail,” Kittel said. “I really love that kind of an idea. Every detail that makes up the genre or a style is so wonderful. But then on the other hand, everything is changing so fast. We have so-called traditional bluegrass now. This is music that is not even 100 years old. You’ve also got all these styles of traditional jazz and rock and different periods of classical music. It’s great to have all the variety and all the different ways of expressing music.
“But what is really cool is that we’re human still. I feel that there are universal threads that run through all this stuff that we like, that we respond to. It’s a real interesting process.”
The string music amalgamation that reached a zenith on Kittel’s 2010 album Chasing Sparks followed paths forged by such master fiddlers as Mark O’Connor and Darol Anger – stringmen rooted in bluegrass that unlocked jazz-like possibilities within their playing and soloing as well as classical contexts for their compositions.
There were very specific links, as well. Kittel has served as an instructor at O’Connor’s fiddle camps in Nashville and San Diego. Similarly, Kittel’s work with Turtle Island String Quartet ties him to Anger, who co-founded the ensemble in 1985.
“I had a lot of fun with Mark,” Kittel said. “Aside from teaching at his camps for a bunch of years, I went on tour with him. It was the first bus tour I ever did. It was called The American String Celebration. We had, like, eight or nine string players and a rhythm section. It was really cool.
“They say whoever you’re around kind of rubs off on you. Maybe a tiny percentage of Mark’s facility on the violin rubbed off. But what’s been really great is getting to know all these guys who have been heroes of mine. And you always have new heroes, too, as you’re growing and learning and changing. But, Darol and Mark… these are just super creative, very risk-taking, adventurous people who have really blazed their own trails. So what they have done gives me courage.”
Chasing Sparks was also something of an all-star affair with Kittel playing alongside such genre-hopping string players as bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolinists Mike Marshall and Chris Thile, cellist Natalie Haas and violinist/sister Brittany Haas. His Danville performance will maintain the sense of adventure but will shift the personnel and instrumentation. Backing him will be bandmates Nathaniel Smith on cello, Josh Pinkham on mandolin and Simon Chrisman on hammered dulcimer.
“It is really an honor to have a band that is this individually interesting and talented.
Nathaniel is a real groove player. Simon has really invented his own style, this kind of space age hammer dulcimer sound. And then Josh is this awesome player from Florida. His first musical journey was learning all the exact drum parts on a Guns N’ Roses album. He started playing mandolin after that.”
“One part of me is just so happy to be making music and getting to work with artists I respect. That’s probably the most important thing in my career versus vast recognition or something like that. But at the same time, I also love having my own band and connecting with audiences.
“So in that sense, the bread, is always buttered.”
The Jeremy Kittel Band performs at 7:30 tonight at the Weisiger Theatre at the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 West Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets are $30. Call (877) 448-7469 or go to www.nortoncenter.com.