Silk purse

CUTLINE (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Tin Hat Trio creates scores for films that don't exist. The post-modern chamber group, which has roots in both New York and San Francisco, excels at setting moods and conjuring up a haunted cinematic dreamworld.

On its fourth CD, Book of Silk, the group continues to achieve this effect with the sparest collection of tools. There's no percussion, no bass (with the exception of some droning tuba from special guest Bryan Smith), no electric instrumentation, and no vocals, except for the wistful coda, "Empire of Light." But Tin Hat's members are such versatile players and meticulous arrangers, they make every plucked harp string and snatch of tack piano jump out of the mix.

At times, this ensemble evokes the raw ambience of The Dirty Three or the early Euro-jazz of Dallas' Cafe Noir, but Tin Hat stands out because of the seamless way it has absorbed seemingly incongruous elements. At various times, you find yourself recalling French balladry, Appalachian country, Brazilian bossa nova, 17th-century minuets, and the minimalism of Philip Glass.

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Book of Silk
Tin Hat Trio
(Ropeadope)
The group's standout contributor is Rob Burger, whose French accordion provides the most vivid solos. He conjures up deep melancholy on the opening "The Longest Night," provides some aching dissonance to Carla Kihlstedt's violin on "The Clandestine Adventures of Ms. Merz," and goes off on a blazing improvisation over the bluesy backing of "Things That Might Have Been." His elegant piano also defines the baroque gem, "Osborne Avenue."

While Mark Orton, the group's guitar/banjo player, does some film composing on the side (most notably for The Good Girl), Tin Hat Trio's work on Book of Silk is so evocative that it doesn't need visual accompaniment. With this music, you can actually hear the subtext. •

By Gilbert Garcia


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