The motto of the Wayfaring Strangers is simple: ''All kinds of music, all of the time."
That's how leader Matt Glaser describes the expansive gumbo that passes for the group's repertoire. Elements of folk, gospel, bluegrass, classical, and jazz -- the sound has also been called jazz-grass -- combine in a progressive, invigorating manner. The group has made two albums on Rounder Records and has caught the attention of Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra, which invited the Strangers to share three nights at Symphony Hall this week.
Let's just say they're strangers no more.
Glaser and his somewhat motley unit -- including rocker Tracy Bonham on vocals -- went over like old friends last night, stirring loud ovations and inducing broad smiles from the orchestra itself, which had fun traversing some dizzying arrangements that jumped genres with unabashed glee. They opened with ''This Train," the gospel standard, and it leapt from vocal harmonies to a jazz-piano break indicative of the boundary-breaking freedom of this virtuosic ensemble.
The song ''Lazy John" was a showcase for singer Ruth Ungar (daughter of famed folkie Jay Ungar), while ''When I Was a Cowboy" was driven by Bonham and Aoife O'Donovan on prairie-etched vocals. ''Cluck Old Hen" featured the hoedown-like fiddle of Glaser (who is chairman of the Berklee College of Music string department), and Bill Monroe's ''Don't Put Off 'Till Tomorrow" sounded like a jam between Monroe and Stephane Grappelli. A truly enjoyable set.
It seemed like crossover night at the Pops. Lockhart earlier led the orchestra through the countrified ''Buckaroo Holiday" by Aaron Copland, plus three Leonard Bernstein tunes from the Broadway hit ''On the Town," and a tribute to jazz icon Artie Shaw, with the Pops' principal clarinetist, Thomas Martin, soloing with style. Something for everyone, for sure.