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Old instruments, new technology

by Jordan Green

Montana Skies is Athens husband and-wife team Jonathan and Jennifer Adams. (courtesy photo)

The sublime vastness of a rugged land unfurled under a panoramic sky may be etched across the moniker for husband and wife duet Jonathan and Jennifer Adams, but they actually claim Lawrenceville, a small city about 30 miles outside of Atlanta, as base of operations; they met at nearby University of Georgia in Athens. Their music — Jennifer on cello and Jonathan on guitars — makes a similar leap. The instruments blend into a warm and rustic mesh and dynamic tension evocative of a sudden storm on the prairie. They utilize electronic loops, creating the sonic density of a quartet, albeit in a way that sounds natural. During their period of study at Athens they found there was no classical repertoire of music written for guitar and cello, so they ended up writing their own and adapting classic rock covers such as the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” “I think probably the main reason that there was so little music for both instruments is because cellos came from the classical time period before amplification, and the cello would overpower the guitar,” Jonathan says by phone from the home he shares with Jennifer in Lawrenceville. “I think that Jen and I have really branched out from those classical constraints.” Indeed. The use of loops expands the group’s musical palette and allows them to maintain the intimacy of a duo. “We’ve worked with other musicians, but I think we always come back to the duo,” Jonathan says. “That’s the soul and the core of what we do. Looping is something that’s come along in the last couple years…. It was almost like learning how to play another instrument. You hit record and you hit play, and it’s going to loop what you recorded. To get to where you hit the playback at the right time takes a lot of practice.” Montana Skies straddles the continental divide between classical and pop. It places them in sympathy with groups such as Pink Floyd that stretched the parameters of music made by loud electric guitars, bass and drum. “Jen’s right here, and she just mentioned ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’” Jonathan says over the phone line.

“Groups like Queen and Pink Floyd had almost a classical approach. They had a symphonic conceptualization of music. From the classical level looking out, pop music’s gotten a bad rap. Groups like Pink Floyd and Queen were performing at the highest level.” The couple’s willingness to depart from tradition has earned them rapt audiences and invitations to play around the world. Jonathan estimates that he and Jennifer spend 60 percent of their lives on the road. “It was an adjustment in the beginning,” he says. “Now we’re both used to being on the road more than being at home. I think we feel more discombobulated when we’re at home.” “We just travel allover the United States,” he continues. “We had a tour of California recently, and we’ve been as far away as Seoul, Korea…. We went over and played in one of the largest concert halls and then also played on TV there.” Jonathan sounds somewhat taken aback when he remarks on what a good reception the duet has received. “I think the crowds are unsure of what to expect until we get there,” he says. “For the most part, I think people are really surprised at what they hear and what our concert is. People think about chamber music when they hear abut two instrumentalists. I think the music has a lot more excitement than they expect.” Montana Skies’ set list remains pretty consistent and stable, and Jonathan gives a hint of what the audience in Winston-Salem might expect on Friday. “They’re definitely going to hear some Pink Floyd and ‘House of the Rising Sun,’” he says, “and also some original music and maybe some Vivaldi.

Montana Skiesperforms Friday at Blessings, at 823 Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem.For more information, call 336.724.9393. To learn more about MontanaSkies’ music, visit www.montanaskiesmusic.com.

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