San Francisco string band the Crooked Jades are redefining alternative music with a theatrical revivalist approach to folk, gospel and bluegrass.
Founded by Jeff Kazor over 20 years ago, the band recently released one of its most musically ambitious albums yet with 2018’s Empathy Moves the Water, which boasts driving dance tunes, haunting ballads and improvised jams.
The Crooked Jades show off their eclectic Americana in concert on Feb. 17 at Sweetwater Music Hall.
“Old-time, string-band music was something that I first got exposed to in my father’s record collection,” says Kazor. “I don’t know why, but I gravitated towards that.”
The Santa Cruz native attended San Francisco State in the heyday of the 1980s alternative and new wave music craze, though his passion for string-band music continued to lead him to recordings from before the turn of the 20th century.
“The ones that I was listening to were amazing and just completely crazy,” he says. “This was more alternative than the music I was listening to on the college radio. I wanted to share that with my peers.”
The guitarist and songwriter formed the Crooked Jades with Lisa Berman and Erik Pearson, both vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, and the group also features bassist Megan Adie, recently back in San Francisco after living and playing in Europe, and fiddler Emily Mann.
For Empathy Moves the Water, the group recorded at Berkeley’s famed Fantasy Studios mere months before it closed last September.
“We had some really strong material, and came in with about 10 songs,” says Kazor. “Then we had about three or four hours of time still left, and our producer said, ‘Just play what you know.’ So we improvised a lot of stuff, and it feels like that’s some of the stronger material on the album.”
While Kazor regularly calls the shots musically, his band mates also brought their own songs and ideas to the record. “It feels like there’s so much more of each individual on this album,” he says.
Currently, the Crooked Jades are taking a new path by collaborating with San Francisco’s ODC Dance, formerly the Oberlin Dance Collective, for a modern dance performance set for March in San Francisco. This weekend, Kazor is looking forward to dancing in Marin.
“Our music is very infectious,” he says. “We bring our own theatrical vision of old-time music.”
The Crooked Jades perform on Sunday, Feb. 17, at Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley. 8pm. $17–$20. 415.388.3850.