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When Takoma Park Celtic folk musician Jennifer Cutting promises that tonight’s CD release party at the Birchmere will be “a veritable three-ring circus,” she isn’t exaggerating. Cutting, Anglo-Irish by descent but raised by Indian swamis in a Florida ashram, has long brought diverse aspects to her music, including 16th-century Scottish folk, French carols, ‘70s prog-rock, and Asian sounds.
A Library of Congress ethnomusicologist, Cutting previously led the Brit folk-rock inspired band The New St. George, and now leads the Ocean Orchestra. Her new album Song of Solstice celebrates spiritual traditions of wintertime with a mixture of originals and unique covers. It also features a lot of musicians. “I don’t even know where we’re going to put all the performers,” says Cutting in an email, “but it will be fun trying!”
The lineup should include an eight-member band (including Cutting on accordion and keyboards), a 14-voice chorus from Washington Revels, a group of Revels-affiliated kids, an eight-member team of Foggy Bottom Morris Men, Celtic harpist Sue Richards, and recorder player John Guillory. Cutting says, “That’s a heck of a lot of people to wedge into one evening (and one space!).”
Song of Solstice—-a project that has stretched over 15 years—-is something she wanted to do for quite some time. She says, “For the past few years, I’ve been presenting holiday concerts with my Celtic group Ocean … and I’ve wanted those concerts to be really different from people’s usual diet of classical and pop holiday music. Since I couldn’t find much music honoring the winter solstice that communicated the particular ideas I wanted to communicate, I just ended up writing my own solstice song.” (That would be the title track.) Another number, “Green Man,” celebrates “the wild irrepressible spirit of nature,” and “appreciate[s] evergreens, which stay alive when all around them is dead.” (Inspired by this song, she commissioned Takoma Park artist William L. Brown to design a “Green Man” made of pine, holly, and ivy for the CD’s cover.) The disc even includes a quirky bonus: “Bah Humbug,” embedded on the CD as video. The Washington Savoyards’ Jase Parker stars, “giving Santa a kind of campy drag-queen feel.”
How is it all going to come together tonight? Let’s wait and see. “If I pull this off,” says Cutting, “I will certainly earn some kind of title (how about “She Who Needs Her Head Examined”).”
Jennifer Cutting and her Ocean Orchestra and guests perform at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. $25. 703-549-7500.
Photo by Jeff Prehn