Enoch Train brings a new meaning to R&B.
The group has plenty of rhythm, and you might even hear a bit of the blues. But for this award-winning folk ensemble, it's all about "Roots & Branches."
Roots music is very popular these days, and some groups set out to preserve musical roots as authentically as possible. "We honor that," says Clive Romney, founder and musical director, "but our approach is to understand those roots while we explore the branches."
Enoch Train explores cultural branches: How would a particular piece sound in different cultural styles? And musically: How would pieces sound with different instruments? With different styles such as Celtic or jazz?
Through individual interpretations.
"Our musicians," says Romney, "are all such competent musicians and arrangers that sometimes we'll let one of them guide us through a piece, and sometimes it's a free-for-all."
It's an exciting venture, he says, "because it is so much a part of the American experience. America is all about adopting and adapting. That's what keeps music growing; that's how new styles emerge."
Enoch Train, which draws its name from a ship that brought immigrants to this country, will bring its original R&B approach to a concert Saturday in the Northwest Middle School.
The concert will be a benefit for the International Arts Exchange, a nonprofit foundation that sponsors cultural exchange through folk festivals. "For many people in other countries the only impressions they have of America is from TV and movies," says Romney. "They see us as rich, arrogant and decadent. These folk-festival exchange programs help them meet real Americans that are none of the above.
"This year, in addition to appearing at a festival commemorating the 60th anniversary of World War II, our group took 250 quilts to a Russian orphanage. They are doing wonderful things." The concert will also be taped for PBS television.
The program will feature pieces from the group's three albums, including several numbers never performed in concert before. It will also introduce a new set, designed by Gary Vorhees. "A lot of things are coming together in this concert," says Romney. "We've always wanted a set that reflects our origin. This new one will sit us right on the deck of the Enoch Train. And we've always wanted a video. Dennis Lisonbee has shot some things for us before, and agreed to do a full-length video. He's placed two of his previous projects with PBS, so he called them, played them some of our music, and they are very interested."
That prospect greatly pleases Romney. "I have such respect for the musicianship of the members of our group, and I've wanted to get them into the national eye," Romney said. "But they are all so busy — three teach at the university level, the others teach individually, and they all do studio work — that it has been hard to pull them together and do showcases. But this could really get them out there."
In addition to Romney, Enoch Train is composed of Aaron Ashton, Daron Bradford, Dave Compton, Rich Dixon, Tom Hewitson, Rob Honey, Jay Lawrence and engineer Chuck Smith. Among them, they play an amazing array of musical instruments.
The concert will include such numbers as "Creature Carnival," a blend of "All Creatures of Our God and King" and "All Things Bright and Beautiful" mixed with the rhythms of Brazil's Carnival. "We'll create the sounds of lots of animals, and we'll get the audience involved in a 'samba batucada.' In Brazil, they have samba schools that compete with each other; they march though the streets with this wonderfully infectious rhythm."
Another song new to the program will be "O Divine Redeemer" by Charles Gounod, from his opera "Faust." "We'll talk about Gounod's life and his opera and why it is as it is. This song is one of my favorites. I heard it first as a young boy and was so taken with it."
The audience can expect a pop quiz — "we want them to learn as well as enjoy" — and will have a chance to pick the instruments for a particular song. There will be a few vocals. "Mostly," jokes Romney, "we sing to give an appreciation for when we don't sing."
As part of their presentation and to thank Northwest Middle School for the use of its building, Enoch Train has also been doing a series of mentoring classes with the students, on such topics as careers in music, playing strings and woodwinds, set design, working on a stage crew and being an audio engineer.
That, too, is part of their roots-and-branches philosophy — to help youngsters put down musical roots that might lead to who knows what branches.
It's really about connections, says Romney. Enoch Train's music may help people connect with musical roots — or their own roots. "They may not relate to something in a traditional style, but when they hear it in a different, more energetic style, that may send them back to the roots and help them enjoy other music. Or it might help them explore other cultures."
The culture of our own country is not static, he says. "It's always changing. Just like what was popular in popular music 10 years ago is not now. The resources available to us now did not exist 50 years ago."
Enoch Train "honors culture. We take melodies from our roots and dress them in new clothing. It helps to keep them alive and appreciated. It's also just a lot of fun."
If you go
What: Enoch Train "Roots & Branches" concert
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Northwest Middle School, 1730 W. 1700 North
How much: $10 (advance), $12
Phone: 467-8499 or 800-888-8499