the creaking tree string quartet
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the creaking tree string quartet

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE | AFM

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE | AFM
Band Alternative Avant-garde


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Umbrella Music"

If not for the Canada Council, which funded the recording of this record through its Specialized Music grant program, this self-titled debut by the Creaking Tree String Quartet may not have happened. And that would’ve been a damn shame.

It’s a beautiful album full of virtuosity and emotion, a lovely balance for a moment when the only activity is listening.

Some Torontonians may know the quartet as the Tuesday night regulars at Cadillac Lounge. For the rest of us in Canada, we can only hope a tour happens soon.

The group is made up of a violinist, guitarist, acoustic bassist and mandolin player. Despite only playing together for a little over two years, this group sounds like they’re the product of generations playing together.

The varying moods here are wonderful, from quiet contemplation to foot-stomping tunes fit for a jamboree. Even without vocals, you don’t feel like you’re missing anything, like you can’t connect. The connection made is quite strong in fact.

Recorded at Don Kerr’s (Ron Sexsmith, Rheostatics) venerable Gas Station studio on Toronto Island, it’s easy to conclude that cottage-like feel of the island (tucked as it is in the shadow of Canada’s biggest city) seeped into the recording.

Currently Canada seems to be sitting under a wave of folk and folk-pop artists, but one wonders how many will be around in a few years’ time. Creaking String Quartet is not one that raises question. - Sean Flinn

"Bandwidth, CBC Radio 1"


"The Creaking Tree String Quartet debut is one of the best bluegrass albums I've heard in years. ...This is organic music, presented with a wry sense of humour, and featuring some of the best up and coming musicians east of the Mississippi. ...The playing is just superb, these guys are fantastic" - Matthew Crosier

"NOW Magazine"

While many roots musicians are trying to figure out how best to connect with the huge O Brother audience, Toronto's own Creaking Tree String Quartet could have it sussed. Their intriguing improv chamber-grass concept seems ready-made to appeal to jazz, classical and bluegrass fans looking for a new spin on ancient instrumental forms.

Although, according to mandolinist Andrew Collins -- who splits his time between bluegrass jam band Crazy Strings and the more traditionally minded Foggy Hogtown Boys -- no elaborate market analysis was involved.

The unique Creaking Tree sound is just a logical consequence of the members' varied backgrounds: upright bassist Brian Kobayakawa studied in the Humber College jazz program with Collins, flash Celtic fiddler John Showman was classically trained, while acoustic guitar picker Brad Keller had been known to dabble in rock 'n' roll after giving up his NHL aspirations.

"The first time the four of us got together in a room was at Brad's place," recalls Collins before a Foggy Hogtown hoedown. "He'd rented some recording equipment and invited us over. We showed each other a couple of our own tunes and just started playing with the tape rolling.

"We used the songs on that recording as the demo we sent to the Canada Council along with our proposal for an album grant. Soon after, we were notified that our application was approved -- after playing together once!"

Listening to the Creaking Tree's Don Kerr-produced debut disc, it's clear that the grant money was both well deserved and well spent. The chamber-grass notion might seem like a bad joke on paper, but in practice their fluency in the musical vocabulary of the Celtic, classical, bluegrass and jazz traditions makes the uncommon blend sound completely natural.

It makes you wonder why more artists aren't bucking convention to similarly mix styles. Of course, a number of virtuoso artists are adding their own twists to the traditional repertoire, but unlike the Creaking Tree, relatively few can boast inventive new compositions to match their chops.

There's a precedent for their chamber-grass concept in Edgar Meyer's Uncommon Ritual (Sony) classical crossover project from 97, involving the Modern Mandolin Quartet's Mike Marshall and banjo boss Béla Fleck (the Trees cover Meyer's Sliding Down from that disc), although Collins credits the revolutionary work of the David Grisman Quintet with the real breakthrough.

"That first Grisman Quintet album from 77 was the real jump-off point for the whole new acoustic movement. The way they were bringing jazz influences into bluegrass took the music where it had never been, and after that everyone started looking at traditional music in a different way.

"As much as I love instrumental bluegrass, if that's all you're playing it can all start sounding the same very quickly. But Grisman showed how it was possible to keep things interesting by exploring different forms and sounds. The whole approach of having all the strings working together as one big rhythm section was really attractive, and very influential for us." - Tim Perlich

"Ottawa XPress"

Strung and Quartered

The four members of Toronto’s The Creaking Tree String Quartet do what they can to balance the interests of the four members – John Showman on fiddle, Andrew Collins on mandolin, Brian Kobayakawa on bass and Brad Keller on guitar – and yet, despite being accountable to everyone’s ideal, they manage a tight sound that’s anything but staid.

It’s acoustic music with an O Brother feel, jumping from roots to chamber music and mixing them too, with a free-form jazz philosophy behind it.

That’s thanks to Kobayakawa, who studied jazz at Humber College. Do the math with Showman’s classic background and Collins’ and Keller’s dabbling in roots/country/Celtic outfits, and then their self-titled debut makes some sense – but just for a bit.

“We took some time with it,” Kobayakawa says of their demo, about a year in the making and helped by $10Gs from a Canada Council grant. “We just wanted to keep people on their toes. There are a lot of different moods and textures on the album. We wanted every song to start fresh and to make you step back to wonder if it’s the same band playing as the song before.” - Fateema Sayani

"Ottawa Citizen"

Mixing and matching bluegrass with jazz, Celtic and classical music is nothing new. It's what put Nickel Creek, Bela Fleck and countless other newgrass acts on the map while helping keep bluegrass vibrant. The challenge now is to put an individual stamp on the permutations and combinations. Toronto's Creaking Tree String Quartet does just that on their debut CD. Tight and lively textures, tasty solos, and a healthy dose of musical humour, not to mention those arresting mid-stream rhythmic changeups, make this collection of mostly original instrumental tunes noteworthy. And while the boys put their mandolin, guitar, fiddle and standup bass through chameleon-like musical paces, good taste and restrained arrangements prevail. Creaking Tree String Quartet plays Rasputin's May 3 and The Bayou May 4. - Patrick Langston

"Exclaim! Magazine"

Lock your doors and hide your daughters, the four gentlemen of the acoustic apocalypse are comin' a knockin' to romance them with "Sliding Down" or work them into a dancing frenzy with "Waymoot." The Creaking Tree String Quartet have discovered something grand on this self-titled debut — namely the chemistry between them. Adventurous and playful, the quartet is like Zubot and Dawson, only with 21 strings. Acoustic roots music has come too far to remain within the jazz or bluegrass confines and this album is a good example. With their players schooled in both genres, Creaking Tree have fun with both but are never too reserved to leave them completely behind either. - Brent Hagerman

"Relix Magazine"



There’s no doubt that the Creaking Tree String Quartet has intense, string-driven power. Since forming in early 2001 the band has grown in musical stature. This summer, the band—which has released two stunning albums to date—did the rounds of Canada’s biggest folk, jazz and classical festivals. From an instrumental perspective they are in the same vein as Darol Anger/Mike Marshall and similar “newgrass” acts, but there’s a great deal of depth and variety—not to mention dexterity—in the quartet’s organic instrumental music. One hears obvious influences of Grisman, Fleck, etc., but there’s so much more, as stand-up bassist Brian Kobayakawa explains. “I think something that’s very special about this group is our independence and the balance between the four of us.” Perhaps a good insight into the group’s eclectic nature can be found in its tune “The Triple Bill.” Kobayakawa explained that it’s a medley of tunes by Bill Frissell, Bill Evans and Bill Monroe. It certainly highlights their vast musical abilities and musical empathy. The band hopes to take its music outside of Canada next year. In the meantime, both albums are worth investing in. The most recent, Side Two, was produced by Todd Philips. - Mick Skidmore

"Mandolin Magazine"

Ever since the original David Grisman Quintet revolutionized acoustic music in the mid-1970s, groups of talented musicians have created progressive acoustic ensembles to pursue their own vision, often incorporating original music played on traditional bluegrass instruments such as fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass. One of the most successful efforts in this rapidly growing genre is Canada's Creaking Tree String Quartet.

Consisting of four equal, unified voices - Andrew Collins on mandolin; Brad Keller on guitar; Brian Kobayakawa on upright bass; and John Showman on violin - CTSQ offers a fresh perspective that combines bluegrass, jazz, New Acoustic and classical influences in a frequently brilliant new sound.

Opening with the uptempo Underpass, the band immediately shows not only impressive instrumental chops, but also a keenly refined sense of playing as an ensemble. Collins’ mandolin jumps out on the melody following a cleverly arranged, well-executed intro by Showman and Keller. The Real Rapscallion turns toward a dark, minor sound filled with creative interplay between the fiddle and mandolin.

Sliding Down captures a dreamy, trance-like state reminiscent of some of Chris Thile’s compositions, with the guitar and mandolin holding down the melody as Showman’s breathy violin sound wafts overhead. While CTSQ has many of the same influences as the increasingly popular jam grass bands cluttering the acoustic music scene these days, there’s a very important distinction. While many other modern bands indulge in long-winded, often rambling solos over meandering, unfocused melodies, Creaking Tree String Quartet displays an uncommon discipline and intense dedication to taut, structured compositions to create coherent deliberate musical statements. While still giving each player room for melodic improvisation and creativity, the band’s concentration on its original compositions sets it far apart from the often mediocre sound achieved by lesser groups.

Like the early David Grisman Quintet and Tony Rice Unit recordings, CTSQ has a distinctive highly original musical voice. These songs linger with the listener, long after some wayward solo or half-hearted harmonic passage found in other band’s limited bag of tricks has faded into obscurity.

Again and again, this band scores with memorable original music supported by, not overburdened with, fresh-voiced, intelligent solos. Phthalo Blues features a powerful melody on mandolin, and gives Keller room to position a truly original jazzy, post-modern, angular guitar solo. Spare Parts imparts a lilting, almost Caribbean feel based on the triadic harmony between guitar, violin and mandolin. Waymoot, on the other end of the spectrum, throws down the album’s hottest solos over a rip-roaring bluegrass-style rave up. The closing tune, Scotland Yard, reflects the band’s interest in Celtic influences. A great melody played by mandolin and guitar over a low-voiced arco bass by Kobayakawa, the tune creates the perfect ending for an exceptional debut album.

This refusal to rely on simple musical forms and the creative itch to explore unusual song structures with varied key selections and changing time signatures within compositions shows a maturity and strength far beyond this band’s youthful exuberance.

Creaking Tree String Quartet rises to the top of modern progressive acoustic ensembles on a variety of strengths: unique, memorable compositions; a taut, disciplined approach to creating excellent music instead of showing off immature hot licks and musical grandstanding and a keen sense of involving the listener more deeply in each tune on repeated listening.

All four musicians display formidable soloing skills, but also know when to restrain those impulses for the greater good of the ensemble’s sound, a rare gift in today’s often over-the-top band mentality. A second CTSQ release is in the works, Andrew Collins tells me, and after the band’s auspicious debut, I have little doubt it will rank as one of the top releases of the year. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and add this disc to your collection and listen to it often.
- Dave McCarty

"Acoustic Guitar Magazine"

There's nothing the least bit creaky about the string combo of Andrew Collins (mandolin), Brad Keller (guitar), Brian Kobayakawa (bass), and John Showman (fiddle), whose sparkling debut CD is as tight and polished as it is improvisational and exuberant.

The music crackles with imaginative and sometimes manic instrumental interplay. Such original compositions as "Underpass," "Phthalo Blues," "Stream," and "Waymoot" blend genres in Mark O'Connor/Edgar Meyer fashion and reflect the musicians' jazz, bluegrass, classical, and Celtic backgrounds.

The spooky nine-minute "Motian" showcases the quartet's many talents, unleashing interweaving melody lines and tapping a treasure chest of effects.
- Celine Keating

"Bluegrass Unlimited"

The Creaking Tree String Quartet is four very talented young men from Canada, Brian Kobayakawa on bass, John Showman, fiddle, Andrew Collins, mandolin and, Brad Keller, guitar.  Each is an accomplished musician in his own right. Their musical styles, collectively and individually, are wonderfully reminiscent of Strength in Numbers. Their music is very eclectic, very creative with all four impressively adept at composing, arranging, and performing a variety of styles: jazz, blues, newgrass, even a taste of classical. Their musical structures and chord progressions, propelled by their flawless solo and harmony instrumental work, are stunning. Running the gamut from hot and driving to tender, their compositions are always inspired. Band members composed 12 of the 13 pieces here, with one paying sweet homage to, Edgar Meyer’s haunting “Sliding Down.” Creaking Tree grabs your attention right away with John’s very jazzy “Underpass.” Andrew’s “s.y.t.e,” with its intricate mandolin and fiddle counterpoint and harmonies and a hot guitar lead, has a real feel of Copeland’s classical Americana in parts. That one is followed up with some modern jazz, Brian’s “Phthalo Blues.” “Zig Zag” does just that, moving intricately in wonderful high and low harmonies and featuring Brian’s nice bowed bass work. From the standpoint of recording quality, this is an excellent recording as well, each note is clear and crisp, the mix and engineering measure up to the high caliber of music presented here. By the looks of these guys in the CD photo, they’re still fairly young... with a great musical future ahead of them. Many thanks go out to the Music Section of the Canada Council for the Arts for making it possible for these young musicians to bring their music to us. - JF


The Creaking Tree String Quartet - released March 2003

Side Two - released November 2004

The Soundtrack - released October 2007

Sundogs - released September 2010

Distributed by Festival Distribution



3-time Canadian Folk Music Award Winners
4-time JUNO Award Nominees
International Acoustic Music Award Winners
Indie Acoustic Project Award Winners

"The playing is just superb, these guys are fantastic."
- CBC Radio One

"As tight and polished as it is improvisational and exuberant."
- Acoustic Guitar Magazine

"The Creaking Tree String Quartet are a ridiculously talented Canadian four-piece who take the string band sound that is the root of bluegrass and proceed to shatter one's preconceptions. The Soundtrack, their third album, is a technically brilliant and often stunning collection that sees the quartet bringing jazz, classical and avant garde styles to the table and blending them seamlessly into their own irreverent but extremely listenable style. With mandolin, violin, bass and guitar all able to perform their own little flights of fancy, in the hands of lesser mortals it may easily have ended up as a musical dog's dinner; that it doesn't is testament to the skills and ingenuity of all concerned."
- Rock 'N' Reel (UK)

"There’s a great deal of depth and variety—not to mention dexterity—in the quartet’s organic instrumental music." - Relix Magazine

"Listen to this album at the first snow fall from a warm indoor place by a window, with a hot sweet drink at hand and a sketchbook at the ready. Let the images burble up from the music, and let yourself be carried away."
- The Live Music Report

"It’s a beautiful album full of virtuosity and emotion, a lovely balance for a moment when the only activity is listening." - Umbrella Music

The Creaking Tree String Quartet

String-band music has long been a staple of Americana. While the four members of the Creaking Tree String Quartet pay homage to that tradition, they refuse to be bound by it.

Instead, the technically dazzling outfit uses fingerboards to leap stylistic boundaries and fuse intricate styles. The result is a smartly intellectual and yet deeply moving sound that's a true Canadian original: jazz forms sliding over a rootsy bluegrass base, with flashes of chamber music, reverence and avant-garde experimentation.

It’s the product of four adept and accomplished musicians, dedicated to performing unique and exciting material that raises the bar for instrumental acoustic music.

Mandolinist Andrew Collins, guitarist Brad Keller, bassist Brian Kobayakawa, and violinist John Showman earned a Juno Award nomination for their 2003 debut CD. Their 2005 follow-up “Side Two” won the Pushing The Boundaries trophy at the 2005 Canadian Folk Music Awards, was named Instrumental Album of the Year at the Indie Acoustic Project Awards, and “Old Crow” won Song of the Year at the International Acoustic Music Awards. The band's third album, "The Soundtrack" was produced, recorded and mixed by Grammy Award winner Bil VornDick. It won two awards at The Canadian Folk Music Awards for Pushing The Boundaries and Best Instrumentalists, and was nominated for the 2009 JUNO Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.

The band's fourth album, "Sundogs", is its finest and most ambitious to date. Recently nominated for two 2011 JUNO Awards - for Instrumental Album of the Year and Roots and Traditional Album Of The Year - "Sundogs" features the quartet in expanded instrumentation with guests that include some of Canada's finest on drums, piano and pedal steel.