We haven’t heard the last from Tin Hat, the insistently uncategorizable chamber ensemble that came together as Tin Hat Trio in San Francisco in 1997. But the band has announced that a brief California tour, concluding with shows Saturday at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage and Sunday afternoon at the Dance Palace in Pt. Reyes Station, will be the quartet’s last for the foreseeable future.
It’s not that the band has a hit a creative cul de sac. While iconic vocalists Tom Waits and Willie Nelson made guest appearances on earlier albums, it wasn’t until Tin Hat’s latest release, 2012’s startlingly beautiful the rain is a handsome animal: 17 songs from the poetry of ee cummings (New Amsterdam Records) that the group shed its identity as an instrumental ensemble and unleashed Carla Kihlstedt’s urgently expressive vocals. The album also introduced the group’s latest creatively energized incarnation, with Oakland accordionist/pianist Rob Reich joining Berkeley clarinetist Ben Goldberg and Tin Hat founders Kihlstedt on violin and Mark Orton on guitar, dobro and banjo.
So why the breakup? The centrifugal forces pulling Tin Hat apart mainly involve geography, parenthood, and other career commitments. Orton has pulled off the unlikely feat of becoming an A-list film composer while living in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and young son, writing acclaimed scores for recent films such as Nebraska, The Boxtrolls, and My Old Lady.
Kihlstedt now lives on Cape Cod with her two young children and husband, percussionist/vocalist Matthias Bossi. When she’s not writing new music commissioned by various classical ensembles, she performs and records with Bossi in the subscription-supported band Rabbit Rabbit, a project hailed by the New York Times as an innovative model for artists seeking to enlist their audience as supporters. While she spent years logging tens of thousands of miles touring (often with the theatrical art-rock band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum), Kihlstedt says that she’s resigned herself to the stubborn facts of physics.
“There’s this idea that in the modern age the time-space continuum shouldn’t matter, that geography is a construct that we can get past, but the distance is hard to bridge, especially with three different locations,” says Kihlstedt, taking a few minutes off from working on commissions for a solo bassoon piece and a new composition for the San Francisco Girls Chorus.