Classical and folk blend in new album, Night

May 1, 2013

Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt collaborated on their newest album Night

Making music from the classical repertoire is standard fare for Simone Dinnerstein.

 Since she appeared on the classical scene in 2007 with her freshman effort - a widely praised recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations - the Brooklyn-based pianist has grown in popularity with fans of classical music. In the years after, Dinnerstein built a following for herself with steady releases.

Wanting to try something new, Dinnerstein reached out recently to a new friend who shared her aesthetic: guitarist Tift Merritt. The North Carolina-based singer-songwriter debuted in 2002 with her album Bramble Rose. Merritt’s Tambourine (2004) featured members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and Emmylou Harris’ band. That album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Album.

Dinnerstein and Merritt are both adventurous musicians willing to branch out and play with a variety of performers regardless of genre distinctions. While their backgrounds don’t initially lend themselves to collaboration, Dinnerstein described how a brief live collaboration with Merritt opened the door to an album of piano-guitar duets:

Tift and I developed a program together a couple of years ago as a concert. We made this program called Night. I think it was a very kind of organic process. We had become friends, we were interested in each others music and we decided to see where that would take us if we did something together.

After listening to pieces important to each other the women eventually settled on 17 tracks that included classical compositions as well as jazz standards, folk and rhythm & blues. the result is the new Sony Classical release Night.

The collaborative process

There was no shortage of material to work with when the Juilliard-trained classical pianist Dinnerstein and the North Carolina self-educated folk artist Merritt started talking about potential tracks for what would become the January 2013 release Night. Dinnerstein said:

That was a long and interesting process. We [Tift and I] kept sending each other songs to listen to. We probably listened to hundreds of songs. When I sent her Dido’s Lament that could sound like a song she would sing... It could relate to her world.

An update on classical repertoire

For the recording of Night, Dinnerstein and Merritt played beyond their genre-based comfort zones. What could have ended up as an awkward pairing of styles (think Willie Nelsons reggae album for instance) becomes something greater than the sum of its parts. Merritt gives Dinnerstein space to explore the solo piano performance that has become her calling card. Dinnerstein knows when to let Merritt’s guitar and vocal work expand to occasionally transcendent moments such as on Henry Purcell’s Didos Lament.

The music needs to be allowed to breathe and to change. We’re playing music that was written 200, 300 years ago. there have been thousands of performances of the same piece of music. We’re not living in the same time as when it was written. Vast changes have taken place in our society.

While future duet recordings are undetermined, Dinnerstein and Merritt are enjoying the reception that their release Night is getting.