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The Recorder – Sounds Local: Pushing the boundaries of banjo, Nix releases new album, “Aperçu”

Greenfield resident Michael Nix has long been challenging people’s perceptions of the banjo, an instrument that many view as limited to bluegrass or country music. Through his extensive work as a musician, composer and teacher, Nix has shown us that the banjo is far more versatile than we may have thought.

Nix continues to push musical boundaries and establish new terrain on his new album, “Aperçu,” from his New Classic Banjo Project. “Aperçu” is Nix’s first release for PARMA Recordings’ Big Round Records, distributed by NAXOS. It will be released nationally on all streaming platforms and on CD tomorrow, Friday, January 27.

To celebrate the album’s release, Nix will play a show on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. His longtime collaborator, Chris Devine, will open the show with some Bach arrangements. Devine will also join Nix during his set and play some New Classic Banjo pieces. The celebration will continue on Saturday, January 28 with a release party at the Luna Center in Greenfield. Nix will be on hand to speak about his New Classic Banjo Project, sign CDs, screen some videos of performances, and play a couple of cuts from the album. The party will run from 7 to 9 p.m. and is free.

On the new album, Nix challenges the listener to re-imagine the banjo as a solo concert instrument. He accomplishes this by utilizing the seven-string Banjar, an instrument he developed in 2004 that combines elements of the five-string banjo and classical guitar to create a unique sound. He later established the New Classic Banjo Project to develop and record a modern classical banjo repertoire for the Banjar, the traditional nylon-strung five-string classical banjo, the six-string guitar banjo, and other banjo hybrids.

Nix calls the music he recorded for the new album “new classical banjo” and said it incorporates various folk, international and classical styles. Perhaps we can gain a better understanding of this music from the album’s title “Aperçu,” which means “a survey or sketch, or an immediate impression, especially an insight.”

As Nix explained in a recent email exchange: “I have set out to craft a new style of classical – crossover banjo playing. I call the set of thirty or more etudes in this modern style that I have planned, the first five recorded on this album, ‘Aperçu,’ because they provide a glimpse or insight into my thoughts about new classical composition for the instrument.”

“I found it fitting to use the word as a title for the album since the album itself provides a good first look at what might be possible for classical banjo composition moving forward,” Nix continued.

The seeds for “Aperçu” were planted years ago.

“I had made the first rounds of commissions and compositions for the New Classic Banjo Project in 2019. On March 7, 2020, I performed the premier concert of the project at Hawks & Reed and had several concerts lined up with the project and then the COVID sequestering started,” Nix said.

Like many other musicians, the shows Nix had scheduled were cancelled – so he decided to move to have his teaching and performances take place virtually. Nix also used the COVID down time to work on new pieces and commission a new piece for the New Classic Banjo Project. He was ready to record the album in June of 2021 when he received an email from a rep from PARMA recordings.

“The rep had looked at the videos on (my website) and was interested in the classical/crossover nature of my work, citing Barton Cove’and a number of other pieces that he thought might be a good fit for the Big Round Records label, which specializes in contemporary crossover composition.”

“Barton Cove” is a piece on “Aperçu” that Nix wrote about the reconciliation ceremony between Abanaki people and the select board of Turners Falls.

“The label’s philosophy is ‘Big Round Records is dedicated to presenting world-class musicians doing what they do best: smash the walls of genre and create groundbreaking new sounds while keeping one foot firmly rooted in tradition.’ ” This sounded like the perfect fit for Nix’s work and he agreed.

“I was able to negotiate using my friend and long time cello playing partner from The Pioneer Consort, Greg Snedeker, as the recording engineer at his Riverview Production studio in Gill.” Nix said about the work on the album. The album was recorded and edited last summer and Nix spent the fall working with PARMA on graphics and marketing strategy. Now “Aperçu” is ready to join Nix’s impressive body of work.

And you can hear this innovative music for yourself this weekend: Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 day of shows. Tickets can be purchased at hawksandreed.com or by calling 413-774-050. CDs can be purchased at both events or can be ordered at Nixworks.com.

Green River Festival lineup announced

The Green River Festival announced a number of artists that will grace their stages this summer. The event, now in its 36th year, will return to the Franklin County Fairgrounds on June 23 through 25. Live music will be accompanied by local food and beverage vendors, a Makers Market and plenty of family-friendly activities.

Little Feat and The Wood Brothers are both slated as headliners for this year’s multi-genre concert series. St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Sierra Ferrell, Sammy Rae & The Friends, and Vulfpeck’s Cory Wong will also perform. Other artists on the bill include Rubblebucket, The Felice Brothers, Thee Sacred Souls, Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, The Heavy Heavy, Donna The Buffalo, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, GA-20, Cachitas Now!, Miko Marks, AJ Lee & Blue Summit and the Glen David Andrews Band.

Even more artists will be revealed in the months leading up to the event. Weekend and days passes are on sale now, as are parking and camping passes, which are moving fast. You can view the lineup and purchase tickets at GreenRiverFestival.com.

Get Down with your Hometown this weekend

You can enjoy a festival from the comfort of your home this weekend when the third annual Get Down with Your Hometown returns on Saturday and Sunday night, January 28 and 29.

This free music festival is a collaboration between and fundraiser for North Star, the Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA) and the Shea Theater Arts Center. These three non-profits share the common bond of music. The Shea hosts concerts and both IMA and North Star foster the training and growth of young musicians.

The music begins at 6 p.m. each night. The lineup features a group of nationally known and local musicians. Viewer can enjoy the folk-pop sounds of the Indigo Girls, the soulful vocals of Lake Street Dive vocalist, Rachael Price, banjo great Tony Trischka and singer-songwriter Chris Smither.

Matin Sexton, Jamie Kent, WinterPIlls, NaiaKete, The Suitcase Junket, Cloudbelly, The Nields, Eric Phelps and Let it Rain, and StompBoxTrio are just some of the many other artists performing.

Many of the participating artists attended Northstar and/or IMA and have performed at the Shea.

It’s free to watch this festival, but you can donate by giving to the tip jar and purchasing VIP passes that allow you to hang out and join a virtual green room with performers. To learn more, purchase green room passes and watch the festival visit: Getdownhometown.com.

Sheryl Hunter is a freelance writer who resides in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national publications. She can be reached at Soundslocal@yahoo.com.




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