Rising out of the ashes of ThaMuseMeant, Apricot Jam and Hanuman, a new musical beast by the name of Taarka has been roaming the West this summer. With performances at the High Sierra Festival, Northwest String Summit at Horning’s Hideout, Oregon Country Fair and Seattle’s Bumbershoot Fest, they are making a big impression on the scene especially for such a newly formed act. The all-star line-up of instrumentalists includes Dave Tiller of ThaMuseMeant on mandolins, Jarrod Kaplan of Hanuman and Trillian Green on percussion, James Whiton of Apricot Jam on stand-up bass, and Enion Pelta, an amazing gypsy fiddler who was oblivious to the jamband scene before hooking up with Tiller in New York City for a stint with Brooklyn Brown Grass. Classically trained on the instrument from the age of three, Pelta stunned audiences at the High Sierra Festival this summer when she played a workshop with fiddle legend Darol Anger and showed skills comparable to those of the much older and more experienced master.
Early this year Tiller and Pelta headed to the Northwest to find the rest of their band for an eclectic gypsy jazz project that they envisioned. They could not have found more talented collaborators than Whiton and Kaplan. Kaplan is well known to those in the Northwest as the high-energy hand drummer from Trilian Green and Hanuman. If you ever wondered who that extra percussionist was sitting in with your favorite band at High Sierra or any given festival, chances are it was Jarrod. When guitar icon Fareed Haque needed a stand-in percussionist to play with his group in Portland recently, it was Kaplan who filled in and more than stood his own, playing unfamiliar and incredibly complex tunes. Whiton played with the folk-rock trio Apricot Jam, a popular fixture on the New Mexico jamband scene until they moved to Portland in ’96 and then disbanded in ’98. Whiton is known for his percussive style of playing, which is exciting to watch and gives the band a little extra thump that helps keep the booty shaking.
As Apricot Jam’s star was fading in New Mexico, ThaMuseMeant was rising as the new hot band on the scene in the mid-‘90s. Dave Tiller became recognized as one of the finest mandolin pickers anywhere, and got the chance to play alongside people like Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, The Slip and Yonder Mountain String Band. ThaMuseMeant played thousands of shows, wrote hundreds of songs (mostly due to the Dylanesque prodigious writing of Nathan Moore), and put out two albums on High Sierra Records before disbanding in February of 2001. Interestingly, the three main bands that Tiller, Kaplan and Whiton are known for playing with all succumbed to the infamous seven year itch.
Taarka’s excellent new self-released album catches the band playing a live acoustic set in the studio with no overdubs. It catches the uplifting, high-energy spirit that helped ensnare hundreds of onlookers and dancers in the meadow outside the main stage area at High Sierra, where the band set up unofficial late-night concerts. Col. Bruce Hampton was one of the many new fans the band gained at the High Sierra Festival - I heard him say they were the best band he saw at the fest (excluding, I assumed, the Code Talkers).
Fans of Bela Fleck will enjoy the masterful playing and eclectic compositions on this first effort. The album really showcases Pelta’s violin work, which I think evokes an incredibly wide range of emotions for an album without any lyrics. Tiller’s mandolin playing has improved since his days in ThaMuseMeant when he did double duty on the fiddle for some songs. This is no surprise to anyone who has spent any time with him, as he is a man obsessed with playing the mandolin. Practice consumes most of his waking hours and he does not even stop playing when he talks to you or drives his vehicle. (Luckily he has chosen a relatively small instrument and none of his auto accidents have resulted in serious injury.) Some fans, myself included, will probably miss the unique sound of Tiller’s electric mandolin on this album as it was made with all acoustic instruments, but he can be cajoled into playing the electric during Taarka’s live performances. I hope his playing will be featured more prominently in the mix on their next studio effort.
Taarka recently embarked on their fall tour, which will take them up and down the West coast from Washington to Southern California and to the Southwest, where Tiller and Whiton have long been missed by fans. Check for Taarka tour dates, and get out there and support live music!
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