"All the members of Brooklyn Rider, back when we were in conservatory, listened to Martin Hayes all the time and went to his shows. It was a musical crush from afar. At some point we just realized: 'Geez, what if we were to ask him out on a date?'"
Colin Jacobsen is a violinist and founding member of Brooklyn Rider, a New York-based string quartet. The band did finally ask Irish fiddler Martin Hayes out on a date, and now they're celebrating their first recording together. It's titled The Butterfly.
"He seemed receptive to the idea of working with a string quartet," Jacobsen says. "There was maybe a couple of years of emailing back and forth. Finally we got him to come out to Minnesota, when we were doing the Stillwater Music Festival for ten years there. It was a long build up and a lot of time spent together, but also a lot of time in between when we were all doing different things before we finally made this album.
"The title of the album, The Butterfly, is the name of one of the tunes that I arranged for the album. I went to an Irish traditional session in New York. I was having a great time, and people were excited that there was this new person at the session. I said, 'How about "The Butterfly"?' And there was this collective sigh and gasp, like 'Why would you ever want to play "The Butterfly" after you're six years old?'
"Part of what Martin loves doing is excavating tunes that are not so well known and also very iconic tunes, like 'The Butterfly,' which he feels are often brought down the rough road of kitsch because they're so famous. With a string quartet you can frame these tunes in a way that they've never been heard before.
"What a quartet can do is add dimension, layers, texture. You want to provide that new basis, but you don't want to get in the way of the actual tune. And 'O'Neill's March' is one of those other very iconic tunes that Martin says has been dragged through the kitschy dirt too much, so I wanted to keep it simple."
You arranged a reel, called "P. Joe's Reel." Who is P. Joe?
"That's Martin's dad, P.J. Hayes. Martin did learn that from his dad. Also, Martin's own original tune that starts the album, 'Maghera Mountain,' is one of the few that is credited to Martin. Apparently, he wrote it when he was a teenager, still playing in his dad's band."
What have you learned from Martin Hayes, in terms of a fiddling style or something else, perhaps?
"He's able to convey and conjure up so much emotion within half a centimeter of bow. Or just the idea of feel, and how you cannot notate feel. You have to internalize it and get it truly in your body. So much of that happens in the bow. He himself loves and has worked with someone like Jordi Savall, the great viola da gamba player, and I think he feels he has learned much from Jordi. I think with the quartet, we've had a wonderful working relationship over these years, where it's a continual lab."
No speed dating for Brooklyn Rider. Their new recording, The Butterfly, is the result of a long-term collaboration.
To hear the rest of my conversation, click download the extended podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.