Multinational, Multi-style Gumbo

They say too many cooks spoil the broth, but everyone stirs the musical melting pot in the Duhks, and the result is an upbeat acoustic gumbo filled with modern spices and textures that still sticks to the ribs like a giant batch of homemade chili.

And that’s just the way titular leader Leonard Podolak likes it.

“We’re all the stars in this band,” Podolak said over the telephone from his home in Winnipeg, Canada, where he assembled the Duhks about five years ago. Podolak put together the quintet in 2002 after his previous band, Scrooj MacDuhk, bit the dust. This time, he had a clear vision of where he wanted to go.

“I wanted a real high energy band that incorporated old-time music, Irish music and Québécois French-Canadian music with a modern twist,” Podolak says. “The styles are all different yet distinctly related.”

So Podolak, who plays Appalachian-style claw-hammer banjo, found smoky-blues-loving singer Jessee Havey, French-Canadian-influenced fiddler Tania Elizabeth, Celtic guitarist Jordan McConnell and later added Latin percussionist Scott Senior to form the unlikely outfit.

“I knew if I could get some players who could handle being in the same room together and turn them into a band that it would be no problem to play great music,” Podolak recalls. “What I couldn’t possibly conceive of was what exactly would happen when we did all stay together. It’s been amazing to witness the growth of the band and the different styles of music we’ve tapped into.”

Indeed, the band’s three CDs – including the recently released “Migration,” which will receive prime attention when the Duhks play SOhO on Tuesday (November 28) – have exhibited a wide range of styles, grabbing roots music by the ear and lifting it into the 21st century. The approach has attracted attention from innovating banjoist Bela Fleck, who produced the band’s second CD, to Tim O’Brien, the more traditional multi-instrumentalist who produced the new one.

What’s amazing is how Podolak envisioned the styles fusing together, as if he said “Let’s add congas and African rhythms to old-time Appalachian ditties and see what happens.”

“That’s almost exactly what I did,” he says. “Basically all six-eighths or four-fourths rhythms are the same no matter what tradition they come from. So they all work on top of each other. These styles that you might think weren’t related share elements and grooves.”

The key, Podolak says, was eschewing the traditional rhythm section most young bands – even acoustic outfits – favor.

“I just wanted a different sound that wasn’t the same old bass and drum feel,” he says. “Once you go there, it takes a lot of individuality out of the formula of this kind of music. Remove the bass and drums and you get to the roots of the music. Instead, our percussion and acoustic guitar riffs lift the tunes and showcases the melodies beyond the beat in a way a typical rhythm section can’t. That gives it the unique sound.”

Still, Podolak says the mission of the Duhks is to maintain that strong connection with the music’s source – the old-time tunes from Appalachia and Ireland.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel at all,” he says. “We’re just using ideas that have been around for a long time, putting them together in new ways and celebrating both their differences and their similarities. We apply our instruments in a traditional way that’s appropriate for the song, then find a groove and rhythm that supports the song and the rest takes care of itself.”