John Reischman and the Jaybirds. Left to right: Trisha Gagnon

John Reischman and the Jaybirds. Left to right: Trisha Gagnon

Bluegrass birds will take flight at KCT

John Reischman and the Jaybirds play Cranbrook Oct. 18

  • Oct. 9, 2014 6:00 p.m.

An old friend is returning to Cranbrook next week. And as always, the music should be stellar.

John Reischman and the Jaybirds are playing Cranbrook’s Key City Theatre Saturday, Oct. 18. Reischman, one of the premier mandolinists playing today, and his renowned troupe the Jaybirds, provide an elegant but hard-driving bluegrass sound that blends the traditional and the progressive. And they love playing the Cranbrook-Kimberley area.

“It’s our favourite place to play — or at least one of the top three,” Reischman told the Townsman in an interview this week. “Early in our first days, that’s one of the first places we came to play, and we got a really warm reception. We’ve liked coming back ever since.”

Besides Reischman on mandolin, the Jaybirds are made up of Jim Nunally on guitar, Greg Spatz on fiddle, Trisha Gagnon on bass and Nick Hornbuckle on banjo. Together they cover a vast amount of territory, musically and geographically, with individual bases in Seattle, Spokane, California and British Columbia — an all-Cascadia line-up. Reischman says their far-flung nature is no obstacle to playing live together and taking on such “mini-tours” as they’re about to undertake (Nelson, Cranbrook and Calgary).

“We’ve always had this geographic challenge, from the very beginning,” Reischman said. “But it’s the right combination of people, so that the challenges are overcome by the fact that we feel comfortable playing music with each other, and being on the road together is very easy.

“It’s going on 15 years, and it still feels good and fresh whenever we get together.”

Fifteen years with the Jaybirds’ original line-up. Does one develop and intuition, or telepathy, with playing with the same people over a length of time?

“To a certain extent, you get used to what people are going to do, when you work up stuff, and you can do stuff spontaneously, without really having to say anything about it,” Reischman said. “Everyone’s really familiar with everyone else’s playing at this point. But I have to say that from the first time that combination got together, it felt comfortable, it felt good.”

Originally from northern California, Reischman knew and had played with Jim Nunally, and in fact got him in to play and co-produce Reischman’s solo album “Up in the Woods.”

“The band really started after I had moved to Canada,” Reischman said. “We started in 1999, in order to promote ‘Up in the Woods.’ I had met Nick Hornbuckle in Seattle, I really loved his playing, and he’s on that record.  And I was familiar with Trisha’s playing, from a band she had with her sister called Tumbleweed, and I ended up playing some casual gigs here and there with her and Chris Stevens, who’s a great B.C. based bluegrass musician.

“And then I knew Greg Spatz from when I lived in California as well. I never really set out to form a full-time band, but I wanted to promote that record, so I booked some shows with essentially the same band but without Jim. So after the band started going, Jim joined about a year later.”

The Jaybirds have been touring Europe and North America for years. They’ve released five acclaimed albums and been nominated for Juno and Canadian Folk Music Awards. When it comes to bluegrass, the Jaybirds present a mix of the firmly traditional and the original. This is much like the bluegrass genre itself, which though rooted in tradition, is also a product of experimentation and innovation.

“When Bill Monroe (credited with creating bluegrass in the 1940s) started, he was an innovator,” Reischman said. “He took traditional music but combined it into a new thing. It was radical compared to the typical old-time music you would hear at the time.

“So there are bands working to give a more progressive treatment to their sounds, and others who stick strictly to the way it was laid out by Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers.

“I really love the traditional sound, but we — the band — are contributing our own take on it by our own originals. They’re not influenced by Rock and Roll so much, but they’re original and they’re new.”

Bass, guitar, fiddle, banjo and mandolin is the expressive instrumental bluegrass lineup. Reischsman’s own instrument provides scorching leads and driving rhythm.

“The mandolin is there because Bill Monroe was a mandolin player,” he said. “It’s a great lead instrument because it’s tuned like a fiddle so it play all the fiddle tunes very easily. Monroe really developed a whole rhythmic side to it — playing on beats two and four in four-four time, so the bass would play and one and three and the mandolin plays between those. That’s the essential rhythm of bluegrass — and the banjo adds to it with the eighth notes and the fiddle does.

“But the rhythmic drive that the mandolin can provide is really something. There are players like Sam Bush whose one of my favourite players — he’s developed it even more, to have more of a rock sensibility. It’s a great instrument, for bluegrass, obviously, but for other kinds of music.”

John Reischman and the Jaybirds play the Key City Theatre Saturday, Oct. 18. Showtime is at 7:30 p.m.