Started by former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes back in 2004, New Mexico’s A Hawk And A Hacksaw revolves around the dual axis of its founder and the violinist Heather Trost. While Barnes’s earliest records under the name explored American folk music, the focus has gradually shifted more and more towards the traditional soundscapes of Eastern Europe, particularly Romania and Hungary, with added local flavour provided through successful collaborations with local acts such as Fanfare Ciocarlia and the Hun Hangár Ensemble.
Trost’s elegantly atmospheric violin playing has long been the most distinctive ingredient of A Hawk and A Hacksaw’s work, and new album Forest Bathing continues very much in the same vein as that which went before. A translation of the Japanese term Shinrin-yoku, meaning “taking in the forest atmosphere” and developed in the 1980s as a form of preventive health care and healing, the album’s title certainly reflects the rural landscape and way of life integral to the music Barnes and Trost perform.
Although essentially a duo, there are some notable contributions from guest musicians among the 10 new compositions on Forest Bathing. Istanbul clarinettist Cüneyt Sepetçi, Hungarian cimbalom master Unger Balász, together with Chicago trumpeter Sam Johnson and Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich, all add to the rich tapestry of sounds, which include everything from the pulsating brass of The Washing Room to the oriental-tinged swirl of A Broken Road Of Poplar Trees and Barnes playing the Persian Santur, an ancient hammer struck dulcimer, on opening track Alexandria.
Yet for all the interesting things going on elsewhere, it is Trost’s richly evocative violin, capable of joyful exuberance and piercing sadness, that continues to provide the most sublime moments, at times recalling the mood and textures of John Williams’ Schindler’s List soundtrack on A Song For Old People – A Song For Young People and The Magic Spring.
Forest Bathing is another meticulously crafted, immersive piece of work from two uniquely open-eared artists who continue to belie their American roots by producing music that feels inescapably, authentically of places thousands of miles from their origins.