Hawktail — composed of fiddler Brittany Haas, bassist Paul Kowert, guitarist Jordan Tice, and mandolinist Dominick Leslie — plays some of the most beautiful, complex yet accessible music from the American contemporary acoustic music scene you’ll ever want to hear. After beginning life as a trio, this band’s first album, Unless, was released in 2018, and earlier this year their second offering, entitled Formations, hit the streets. Both are excellent, but in Formations the band really hits its stride.
Kowert and Haas are probably the two best-known members of Hawktail, although Tice and Leslie more than carry their musical weight. Kowert is the bassist for The Punch Brothers (with mandolinist Chris Thile, guitarist Chris Eldridge, banjoist Noam Pikelny and violinist Gabe Witcher). A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Kowert has also played with David Grisman Quintet (DGQ) alum Mike Marshall and David Rawlings.
Haas began touring with DGQ alum Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings at the age of fourteen and at seventeen released her debut, self-titled solo album. Haas continued to tour and record while simultaneously earning a degree in Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University! It was during her time at Princeton that Haas was asked to join the seminal “chamber-grass” band Crooked Still, with whom she has made four recordings and toured the world. Since then she has played with Steve Martin, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Tony Trischka, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Waybacks, and Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas (her cellist sister and a Saturday Music alum).
The band has a number of excellent videos showcasing their music over the last several years. Recorded at the iconic McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California in 2017, Hawktail gives us the wonderful medley of three great fiddle/old-time tunes: Polly Put the Kettle On / Say Old Man, Can you Play a Fiddle? / Johnson Boys. Brittany Haas and Paul Kowert shine throughout, with a special mention of their work in Johnson Boys.
The meditative In the Kitchen comes from their 2018 album. Another beautiful piece of modern chamber music from the same album is the title tune, Unless.
More recent work includes the new-traditional string-band tune The Tobogganist, recorded live at Radio Heartland. I see myself sitting on a porch overlooking a lake, with a glass of wine, listening to this scrumptious tune. Also from the Radio Heartland session is Last One on the Line, featuring wonderful interplay between Haas on fiddle and Leslie on mandolin while offering up surprises along the way.
Annbjørg, a Scandinavian polyrhythmic romp inspired by one of the band’s heroes of fiddling, Annbjørg Lien, opens the new album Formations. Everyone in this band plays with great skill, touch, and passion, and you see that to great effect on this tune. In Dandelion, also from the most recent album, check out the work throughout of Kowert on the bass, but especially after the 3:40 mark in the video. Kowert also shows a variety of bass techniques in this medley of Say Old Man, Can You Play the Fiddle? / In the Kitchen.
Hawktail plays acoustic instrumental music of the highest quality. Pull up a chair and enjoy!
More to come.
Image from Healthy Music Obsession.
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