I'm so lonesome I could cry
Andrew Bishop's Hank Williams Project
by Piotr Michalowski
For some years now Western culture, and American culture in particular, has been focused on creating a new future by revisiting and reinterpreting the past in a manner that breaks down generic boundaries. Improvising musicians have been at the forefront of this movement; some have chosen to relive past glories in a literal manner, re-creating them wholesale, but others have been more interested in refashioning them. One could say that they are following John Cage, who once wrote that the past did not influence him, but that he influenced it.
The reinterpretation of all that has gone before goes hand-in-hand with blurring the boundaries between different kinds of music, creating fusions of all kinds, mixing jazz with rock, hip-hop, Balkan folk songs, or klezmer music. One of the masters of this kind of genre bending is Andrew Bishop, as saxophonist, clarinetist, and jazz and classical composer. Bishop seems like a very relaxed person, but whenever I see him, he is in a quiet rush: he has to finish a commissioned concerto, run to play 1920s music with Jim Dapogny, find someone to take his place that night with the Paul Keller Orchestra, or fly to play with his trio in New York. Like many of his contemporaries, he leads a number of very different bands, and on Saturday, September 9, he's at the Firefly Club to celebrate a CD release from a venture he has been working on for many years, the Andrew Bishop Hank Williams Project.
Although country music remains amazingly popular, the proponents of the new eclecticism have largely ignored it. But more than half a century after his death at age twenty-nine, Hank Williams still appeals to a wide range of listeners and remains a classic influence on generations of performers. His kinds of songs are generically strong and are not easy to alter; attempts to do so invariably fall into parody. Bishop, who apparently listened to this kind of music when he was
growing up in Kansas, has no interest either in parody or in slavish re-creation. He approaches the project primarily as a composer, even though many of the songs he performs have been written or arranged by others - including his longtime friend and associate Andy Kirshner and the amazing composer and banjo player Paul Elwood, who made an unforgettable impression when this project was first presented in public at Ann Arbor's Edgefest in 1997.
Some of the compositions pay homage to Williams, some are very modern arrangements of his hits, and some are originals that
play with the general style, combining it with contemporary rhythms and harmonies. The instrumentation - with Kirshner singing as well as playing soprano saxophone - includes banjo (Paul Elwood), guitar (Ryan Mackstaller), violin (Steve Trismen), cello (Katri Ervamaa), bass (Tim Flood), and drums (Gerald Cleaver), as well as Bishop's tenor saxophone and clarinet. These are all accomplished players, old friends of Bishop who share his eclectic aesthetic.
[Review published September 2006]