The Maple Trio - an offshoot of Blueprint Music that takes that band's chamber-folk sound into more adventurous, diverse and vocal-less territory - and indie-rock band turned acoustic quartet The Language played a Saturday night concert at the Earth House that could have served as either background or foreground music for the 50-something people gathered in the downtown space.
It was background music for the occasionally noisy folks visiting the coffee shop, enjoying espresso drinks or a menu of organic and vegan food (including gooey apple cinnamon muffins that don't skimp on the apples).
And foreground music for those gathered on the couches or benches that fill the high-ceilinged and wooden-floored space, located on the ground floor of Lockerbie Central United Methodist Church (New York and East streets). (And while the word about the Earth House is slowly getting out there, I'd make one suggestion for a next community art project at the space: creating road-side signs that point the way to the Earth House.)
While The Maple Trio - Doug Sauter (guitar), Grover Parido (cello) and Matt Koher (mandolin, violin) - has been playing more since Blueprint Music went on hiatus last fall, the group has been around since 2005, when Blueprint scored a hotel gig in California. Vocalist Kate Lamont (now Earth House operations manager) wasn't quite masochistic enough to sing the four hours a night that was required of the band, so the group performed as Blueprint music for the first hour with Kate, and The Maple Trio for the remaining three. During that first year, the group recorded a Christmas album that's still available at shows, and they're currently finishing up a release appropriate for year round.
The trio's repertoire ranged from a quiet, probing, mostly staccato piece written by Koher while "bopping around on New York subways" around 3 a.m. ("Seven Train Serenade"); a nameless tango written, according to Koher, "from the perspective of trees"; a traditional bluegrass number about a flood that quickly went off the tracks into sparser territory, with each band members exploring lines or phrases on his own; as well as a rag with fleet-fingered picking by Sauter and Koher and a waltz by Parido.
Just as impressive were the entirely improvised pieces, presented to the audience, according to Koher, as a "hand-made gift" from the band to them. The band communicates with the intelligence and sympathy of those who have both facility with their instruments as well as the ability to hold back from displaying that facility when need be. For the second of those improvised pieces, the band invited the audience to join them in whatever way they felt inclined - and the crowd (and this writer) did, by singing, stomping on the floor, whistling, whacking on a chair and, in a particularly inspired moment, playing the steam pipe on an espresso machine.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that what The Maple Trio is doing is unique in this town - they can spill into bluegrass and Appalachian territory, but their sound owes more to chamber music than a raw folk sound, bearing resemblance to the avant-chamber experiments of bands like Rachel's and Gastr Del Sol or the Americana work of Bill Frisell.
The Language's earnest, restless, autobiographical songs seem to work better in a full-band, electrified format, but kudos go to the guys for even trying out this unplugged format. Their sound was typically a little murky and morose, but things headed into CSNY territory on several group sing-alongs, including a "So Long, It's Been Good To Know Ya"-style closing number.