“Earth to EZRA”

The album that answers the question: “what would happen if you put a one-of-a-kind microtonal Moog synthesizer and a mad-scientist instrument inventor in the middle of a progressive bluegrass band?”



In late June, the first digital tracks from this groundbreaking album by EZRA will be released on Cantaloupe Records. The full album will be made available in August. Stay tuned for more.

On a rainy late October weekend, the members of EZRA gathered in a barn at Mark Stewart’s home in North Adams, MA. Mark, a multi-instrumentalist, founding member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars and musical director for Paul Simon since 1998, offered his space for the group to work up the tunes they would record three days later. All around were remnants of a fascinating life on the road, rare sound-making apparatuses, and peculiar musical inventions. The barn, with its WhirlyCopter (a bicycle powered Pythagorean choir of singing tubes) and its collection of Boings (think mbiras of variable sizes) was the perfect place to bring Earth to EZRA to life, an album that features an extensive collection of new and unusual instruments. The brainchild of composer, instrumentalist, and luthier Jesse Jones, the album answers that age-old question, “what would happen if you put a one-of-a-kind microtonal Moog synthesizer and a mad-scientist instrument inventor in the middle of a progressive bluegrass band?”

The members of EZRA do play traditional bluegrass instruments on the album, but also utilize those hand-built by Jesse. He crafted a collection of four plucked instruments that investigate alternative approaches to construction and tuning, played here by Jesse and Jacob Jolliff. In addition to the groovy bass playing of Craig Butterfield and the virtuoso banjoing of Max Allard, whacky and evocative instruments invented by Mark are also heard throughout the album including his Pole Vault and Chaladoo, both made from plumbing pipe.

The sonic beast at the center of Earth to EZRA is a microtonal organ designed by David Rothenberg and built by synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog in the mid 1960s. The 478-key instrument divides the octave into 31 equal parts but was never actually functional at the time of its invention. In 2022, the shell of the organ was donated to Cornell University’s Center for Historical Keyboards by Rothenberg’s widow, Suhasini Sankaran, at which point electronic music scholar and instrument builder Travis Johns began the year-long process of meticulously rebuilding its defunct interior. This wonderful historical artifact is played for the first time by pianist Xak Bjerken, also heard here on piano/toy piano.

The tracks heard on Earth to EZRA were largely composed by Jesse but include contributions from EZRA members Max and Craig as well as Craig’s dear friend, bassist Jeffry Eckles. They range from folk-tinged ballads to a fully composed solo piece in a microtonal tuning, and from a zany reinterpretation of a traditional Celtic tune to richly timbral free improvisations. At the core of the album is a pop song sung by Jesse that sets the poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar:


We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.


Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.


We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!


The craftsmanship and sensitivity of the ensemble, their natural musical deftness, and a shared approach to music-making is what threads the disparate corners of this project together. The result is a wild, surreal, and totally joyful album, a “cycle” to be listened to from beginning to end. What crystallizes is a singular meeting of some wonderfully ebullient musical minds.

-Elizabeth Ogonek, from the liner notes to the “Earth to Ezra” album


EZRA is a flexible collective of classical, jazz, rock, and bluegrass musicians focused on the creation of genre-crossing new music. The core ensemble consists of composer and multi-instrumentalist Jesse Jones on guitars and vocals, world-renowned mandolinist Jacob Jolliff, banjo virtuoso Max Allard, and bassist extraordinaire Craig Butterfield. Pianist Xak Bjerken joins on this album, as well as the musical polymath Mark Stewart.  EZRA released their self-titled debut album on Adhyâropa Records in early 2024. Earth to EZRA is their second album, with their third to arrive at the start of 2025.

To learn more about the history of the Rothenberg/Moog synthesizer, check out:

“Long-lost Moog synthesizer finally makes it to the stage” by Kathy Hovis: https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2023/12/long-lost-moog-synthesizer-finally-makes-it-stage