Review: The Pioneer Consort at the Chocolate Church

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2011 in Culture

Review: The Pioneer Consort at the Chocolate Church

by Gina Hamilton and Jean Anthony

BATH — The Chocolate Church's wide-ranging season continued with Pioneer Consort, a trio of talented musicians, singers, arrangers, and friends, who performed a selection of holiday music on Saturday night.

The trio had the repertoire and sound of a much larger chamber grouping. Among the three, no fewer than 10 instruments were played, and occasionally more than one by a single player in a given piece.

Chris Devine plays electric and acoustic violin, mandolin and guitar, as well as flute, recorder and piccolo. Although he didn't play them Saturday, he also plays saxophone and keyboard. Michael Nix is the group's primary arranger. He plays classical guitar, lute, banjo and mandolin, and has designed his own instruments, including a "banjar" — part banjo and part guitar — that has a curious lute-like sound. Greg Snedecker plays the cello, along with piano, guitar and small keyboards. 

If you closed your eyes, you would never know that only three men were on stage. The overall sound was much lusher and brighter than is typical for a chamber trio.

The program, while largely holiday music, ranging in taste from the sacred "O Holy Night" to the joyful "Ding Dong Merrily on High," to the ever so slightly bawdy "Gloucester Wassailing Song," also made way for an interesting mixture of secular classical and jazz music, including a stunning rendition of Rondo alla Turca (Mozart) back to back with an even more stunning version of Blue Rondo a la Turk (Dave Brubeck). The group threw in a charming bluegrass number for free, and Snedecker played "The Christmas Song" on piano as an encore.

The Pioneer Consort blurs the line between genres ... creating unusual timbres for world music, changing the timing, tempo, and percussive quality of jazz and classical numbers alike, and taking these audience members from a quiet medieval minstrel gallery to the Spanish Gold Coast to a San Francisco jazz coffeehouse at their pleasure. 

And ours, as well.

If you get the chance to see Pioneer Consort, absolutely go. 

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