Fluent in Mandarin, clawhammer style banjo, and the folk songs of Appalachia and China's Sichuan Province, Abigail Washburn and her illustrious colleagues in the Sparrow Quartet have fashioned a unique hybrid sound that takes bluegrass where it has rarely, if ever, ventured before. Often coming off as rootsy chamber music with one clog in the Smokey Mountains and the other in the Chinese countryside, the stuff on Washburn & the Quartet's eponymous debut (Nettwerk) would be quirky as hell if it weren't played with such elegance, intelligence, and a certain sense of wonder. That says a great deal about Washburn (who was headed for a career in international law but got sidetracked into picking with the "all G'Earl" bluegrass outfit Uncle Earl), world-class banjo maestro Béla Fleck, cellist Ben Sollee, and fiddler Casey Driessen. Their interaction as questing musicians and cultural provocateurs is quietly spectacular on the disc as they blithely fuse traditional music from opposite sides of the globe while Washburn sings evocatively in both Mandarin and English, leaping octaves with a single bound in a way strikingly reminiscent of Joni Mitchell.
Mon., Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m., 2008