Transplanted from New York to the Bay Area, the chamber jazz group Tin Hat Trio consists of accordionist Rob Burger, guitarist Mark Orton, and violinist Carla Kihlstedt. The group's unique blend of structure, improvisation, and contemporary classical, folk, world, and jazz elements reflects each member's other performing experiences. Kihlstedt majored in classical violin performance at the Oberlin Conservatory and went on to become a prominent performer in both classical and improvised music, playing with artists like John Zorn and Roscoe Mitchell, and recording with Eugene Chadbourne, the Grassy Knoll, and Tom Waits. She also appeared on Philip Glass' series Music at the Anthology, sings and plays with another Bay Area band (Charming Hostess), collaborates with choreographer Jo Kreiter, and is a graphic designer/illustrator as well.
Orton started playing guitar as a child and eventually studied composition at the Peabody Conservatory and the Hart School of Music. Also a professional recording and sound engineer, Orton worked on sessions with Bill Frisell, John Zorn, and the Lounge Lizards, and engineered the sound at the Knitting Factory for two years. Orton plays banjo, lute, dobro, lap steel, and electric guitar with his other group, San Francisco's Old Joe Clarks, and has composed scores for independent films like Beverly Wachtel's Just Noticeable Difference.
Burger studied classical piano at Juilliard and explored different improvisational styles at the University of Massachusetts with Max Roach, Archie Stepp, and Yusef Lateef. He broadened his range to include Hammond organ and vintage keyboards like the Optigan and Chamberlin, toy pianos and keyboards, and the accordion. Burger has toured with Bill Frisell, Don Byron, and Joey Baron, and appeared on Frisell's Tales from the Far Side soundtrack. Since moving to the Bay Area, Burger has worked with artists as diverse as Tipsy and Mix Master Mike; he is also a member of the Oranj Symphonette, as well as his bandmate Orton's other project, Old Joe Clarks. As the Tin Hat Trio, they released their debut album, Memory Is an Elephant, on Angel Records in early 1999; Helium followed in spring 2000, boasting appearances from Tom Waits and an uncredited Mike Patton. Two years later, the ambitious The Rodeo Eroded showcased their own unique music as well as guest appearances from Phish drummer Jon Fishman and Willie Nelson. 2004's Book of Silk went in a more abstract direction; that year, Burger left the band, while frequent collaborators Ara Anderson and clarinetist Ben Goldberg joined the fold. Reflecting their new status, the group rechristened themselves Tin Hat for 2007's The Sad Machinery of Spring.