Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2016 12:00 am
BY STEPHEN HU/FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Bassist Lindsey Horner and multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling first met over a shared interest in music as teenagers in New York City.
They went their separate ways, and Horner became a part of the downtown modern jazz scene, playing with innovative artists like Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas and Bobby Previte. He also travelled to Ireland and played with famed Celtic musicians Andy Irvine and Eileen Ivers.
Goessling became well known in the world of bluegrass and Americana music. He is a member of the acoustic jam band Railroad Earth, and has also played with David Bromberg, John McEuen and former members of The Grateful Dead—Phil Lesh and Bob Weir.
After taking such divergent musical paths, Horner and Goessling decided to get together and play some music that didn’t fit with their other projects. The result is Sleeping Bee, a quartet that brings all those different genres together in a surprising way.
When Horner and Goessling decided to record their new music, they chose a studio owned by their friend Randy Crafton. Crafton is a skilled percussionist and after adding his voice to the recordings, joined the band as a full member and is featured on their 2013 début album, “Heyday Maker.”
After releasing the album the band invited another friend, Timothy Hill, to join the group. Hill has the unusual skill of harmonic singing—being able to sing more than one note at the same time. He has been a member of a large group called The Harmonic Choir for many years.
“He opened shows for another group that I was in years ago, and I thought I would really love to do something with him,” said Horner. “We’ve stayed in touch over the years. Like with Andy and me, I just said now’s the time and I think this guy would go perfectly with what we’re doing.”
Hill’s voice has changed Sleeping Bee’s sound. His unique singing ability can take audiences by surprise.
“Whenever we play, the first time we do it people look around the room and say where is that coming from? What is that sound? Then they realize it’s him. It adds a whole other dimension to the music,” said Horner.
Sleeping Bee takes its members’ different influences and combines them into a sound that defies easy labels. Their album shows a strong Celtic influence, but since it was recorded, they have gone in more of a world music direction. They write most of their own material but also add some choice covers by artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and jazz guitarist John McLaughlin.
“When we cover a tune we don’t just cover the tune,” said Horner. “Sometimes it’s unrecognizable. Ideally it’s unrecognizable—just tunes that we like and we have something to say on them.”
Part of what makes Sleeping Bee’s music so fresh and unpredictable is that they have taken an approach from the jazz world and balanced structured music with the flexibility to go in different directions as the songs are being played.
“We’re deep into the improvisational concept,” said Horner. “I say that advisedly, because we’re more into improvising than jamming. Not that we have anything against jamming, but we kind of like it to be more focused and we’re trying to get from A to B with improvisation. Sometimes we like to have the possibility that it will go to C or D instead. So that’s an important influence, I think. I’m all about that and we dig that.”
The band’s name comes from a standard Harold Arlen tune that has been sung by everyone from Barbra Streisand to Tony Bennett.
“Truman Capote wrote the words,” said Horner. “When I heard that, I thought that kind of fits because it’s sort of hip and sophisticated but Truman Capote was kind of down-home himself but he was also very sophisticated. To me,
Sleeping Bee gives the idea of an urban sophistication with a rural honesty and simplicity.”
Stephen Hu is a paragon of rural sophistication.