Unique sound of sophisticated, earnest music
Playing Time – 40:41 -- Astrograss, a quartet of educators from the Brooklyn, NY area, describe their acoustic music as “newgrass, bluegrass and inter-galactic post-prog alt newrage.” The band formed in 2003 when guitarist/vocalist Jordan Shapiro enlisted the assistance of Tim Kiah (bass, vocals), Alan Grubner (violin), and Dennis Lichtman (mandolin) to play original music that he had written. The fusion of their experience from rock, blues, jazz and classical backgrounds resulted in Astrograss’ unique sound of sophisticated, earnest music. While clearly not bluegrass, I was hoping for more from them that was memorable or thought-provoking. I discovered some passages with fervent instrumental presentation but wasn’t particularly moved by their messages or vocals. There was some tendency for overplaying by Grubner, but that may just be an element of this musical style. As a strength, their arrangements incorporate various rhythms, dynamics, improvised segments, and recurring riffs. Astrograss also pulls covers from the likes of Jimmy Webb and Guns n' Roses.
Jordan Shapiro moved to New York in 1999 after graduating from the University of Michigan where he studied jazz and improvisation. Alan Grubner graduated from Dartmouth College with honors in music, and continued graduate studies in jazz performance at Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory. The adjunct professor of violin and improvisation at Five Towns College also appears as a featured artist and educator at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and London’s Symphony Hall. A native of Boston, mandolinist Dennis Lichtman graduated from the Hartt School of Music where he studied clarinet. Tim Kiah, from Newton, Ma., graduated from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. All of the Astrograss members have played or currently perform in different New York ensembles that feature bluegrass, jazz-funk, 80s pop-rock, instrumental electric jazz-rock, prog-rock, rock-metal-dub-hop, avant-improv, and Frank Zappa tribute music. Given some fine tuning and maturity, the music of Astrograss may achieve an even more cohesive signature sound – one that is truly celestial, stellar or heavenly, characteristic of their moniker. In the meantime, I sense that they are still orbiting and trying to further define their sound.
Astrograss also has a set for children, presenting “folksy stuff by Pete Seeger and his ilk, plus original songs featuring the poetry of Shel Silverstein.” A 17-minute “Astrograss for Kids” extended play demo features five songs such as Homework Machine, With His Mouth Full of Food, and Dirtiest Man in the World. Their interactive performances for kids might also include dance contests, sing-alongs, and songwriting to expose children to exciting music in a fun, memorable way. Astrograss for Kids has been presented at various cafes, clubs, schools, and other venues. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now)