Julliard-trained Brooklynite Simone Dinnerstein, a classical pianist, and North Carolina-raised singer-songwriter Tift Merritt would seem on the surface to have little in common.
Yet on one of last year’s more unexpected and category-defying CDs, “Night,” they artfully bridged disparate musical worlds. One critic called the album a “triumph of critical risk”; others praised its introspective late-night vibe.
Dinnerstein and Merritt bring their collaboration to Kennesaw State University’s Bailey Performance Center on Feb. 21, capping the school’s three-evening Festival of New Music (details: www.kennesaw.edu/newmusicfestival).
The musicians met in 2008 when they were set up for an interview for Gramophone magazine and Merritt’s own public radio show “The Spark with Tift Merritt.” They quickly realized they shared a passion for music and performance, and, in 2010, began playing and honing the “song cycle” that became “Night.”
The CD includes several tunes penned by Merritt, an Americana artist who’s mainly played clubs in prior Atlanta appearances. The dark-night-of-the-soul title song is by Nashville singer-songwriter Patty Griffin. Another highlight is Daniel Felsenfeld’s “The Cohen Variations,” a solo piano piece commissioned by Dinnerstein based on Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”
“We were coming from completely different directions and taking the risk of extending ourselves into foreign territory to find each other,” Merritt has said. “We both felt very exposed and vulnerable but … we really challenged each other and pulled new places out of each other.”
Dinnerstein, whose latest solo album, “Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias,” is just out, said she’s enjoyed playing music by living songwriters and has learned a lot from Merritt. Those lessons include “not to use too many notes, to let the words come through, to keep an edge and rawness to the improvisation.”
Watch video about the making of “Night” at MyAJC.com/sundayliving.
Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $8-$40. 1000 Chastain Road, Kennesaw. 1-877-725-8849, baileycenter.kennesaw.edu.