Kittel and Co. impresses the crowd at The Ark

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Words like “versatile” and “all-rounder” are frequently used to describe musicians, but few deserve as much praise as violinist Jeremy Kittel, who demonstrated the full range of his musical abilities in his last two performances in Ann Arbor. Last spring, Kittel proved his ability to compose radical symphonic music with his world premiere of “In the Dream” at the cavernous Hill Auditorium with the University of Michigan Symphony Band. It was a memorable and inspiring performance, but back in Ann Arbor last Wednesday, Kittel showed another side of his supreme musical acumen: leading his genre band Kittel and Co. in a gripping and intimate performance at The Ark.

Despite being comprised of only four musicians – violinist Jeremy Kittel, mandolinist Joshua Pinkham, guitarist Quinn Bachand and bassist Jacob Warren – Kittel and Co. have cultivated a rich and unique full band sound while drifting without effort between musical styles throughout the night. On some songs, Kittel leaned into his baroque and classical influences and used fast arpeggios as his band backed him up with frequent harmonic modulations, resulting in a texture that could best be described as Bach bluegrass. While Kittel wowed audiences with his otherworldly violin technique, he and the band also impressed with their ability to conjure up complex imagery on songs like “Fields of Brooklyn” and “Chrysalis.” In both songs, Kittel’s fiddle solos meshed seamlessly with the band’s Irish-inspired Americana sound, a sound enhanced by stellar solo moments from the band’s other instrumentalists.

Throughout the concert, Kittel demonstrated that his musical talent extends far beyond his violin playing. On one song – which he prefaced as his metalhead friend Kittel and Co.’s favorite song – Kittel alternated between playing violin and acoustic guitar, creating a vibrant new texture and allowing Bachand’s classical guitar solos to shine as Kittel strummed with him. (In true metal style, the song ended violently, albeit unintentionally, as Kittel’s guitar strap failed and the instrument fell to the ground just as the band reached the final chord of the song). Additionally, Kittel’s rare vocal moments in the concert were outstanding. On “Waltz,” Kittel’s soft, reserved vocals contrasted surprisingly with his typical energetic violin and contributed to a delicate and beautiful performance perfectly suited to a venue like The Ark. Kittel’s vocals also impressed on two covers the band performed: “Time to Move On,” which also featured powerful vocal harmonies from Joshua Pinkham, and their encore performance of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me,” which creatively reinvented the classic song and was a satisfying conclusion to a fantastic concert.

What stood out above all else during Kittel and Co.’s performance, however, was the band’s undeniable chemistry and passion for making music with each other. Even though they abruptly changed their musical style throughout the show, all band members were fully in sync with each other, stylistically and rhythmically. Sometimes Kittel tapped a tempo with his foot, and the other members were all watching him; other times the group would fragment into two separate musical conversations, Kittel and Pinkham looking at each other while Warren and Bachand did the same. No matter who the central focus was, musically or visually, the band was cohesive and established a sense of unity that was infectious to audiences. When the crowd clapped to the beat of the band during some of the concert’s high-energy moments, there was a special connection between everyone in the room that transcended Kittel’s foot slap and the audience’s hands.

Despite what their name might imply, Kittel and Co. is much more than a backdrop for Jeremy Kittel: not only have each of the band members had multiple moments to shine, but they have also contributed a distinctive and engaging sound. that defies conventional gender categorization. Bassist Jacob Warren deserves extra praise for the outstanding opening set he performed with violinist, guitarist and nyckelharpa player Grant Flick; it set the mood for a night of experimentation, virtuosity and overall excellent acoustic music. Whatever creative direction he heads next, Jeremy Kittel has proven himself both a sincere steward of folk traditionalism and a brilliant musical innovator worthy of your attention: if and when he and his band return to Michigan, they are unavoidable.

Daily art writer Jack Moeser can be reached at jmoeser@umich.edu.

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