By Theme Admin on December 11th, 2012 at 12:06 AM
This week I got some exciting news: the Modern Mandolin Quartet received a Grammy nomination! Our newest release on Sono Luminus Records, “Americana,” has been Grammy nominated for the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. The CD also received Grammy nominations for Best Engineered Classical Album (for engineer Daniel Shores) and Classical Producer of the Year (for our producers, Marina and Victor Ledin, who also produced five other classical CDs in the past year).
About a year ago, Paul Binkley (mandola), Dana Rath (mandolin), Adam Roszkiewicz (mandocello) and I went into Skywalker Sound studio about an hour north of San Francisco to record an album of American “classical” music built around a string quartet written by Antonin Dvorak that we had been playing for a while. The album was recorded in three days in August of 2011. All along we were surrounded by inspiration: the beautiful golden rolling hills of Skywalker Ranch around us, various Star Wars paraphernalia in display cases, George Lucas’ collection of vintage movie posters dotting the walls, and Charlie Chaplin’s hat, which was exhibited behind glass in one of the hallways. Not to mention the gigantic screening room we recorded in, which is often used to record orchestral film scores. It was also the site for the original recording of Philip Glass’ “Mishima” String Quartet (which we were about to record parts of) by the Kronos Quartet—talk about big shoes to fill!
Antonin Dvorak’s “American” Quartet was written during Dvorak’s stay in America in 1893 in the town of Spillville, Iowa. To that point, the United States had yet to really establish a strong and uniquely “American” sound in classical music. Dvorak, who had incorporated Bohemian and Czech folk melodies into his own music, was brought over from Bohemia by the National Conservatory in New York to help America essentially find its own musical voice. In this quartet you can hear bits of American folk music, Native American melody and rhythm and cowboy-sounding melodies as well. It’s a great piece, and works well in the world of mandolin family instruments. We decided to record all four movements, and then tried to select other pieces that would round out the album with what has come to be a kaleidoscope of American sounds. We ended up adding music by Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass and Bill Monroe, along with an arrangement of “Shenandoah” and a medley of traditional Irish tunes.
A friend of mine, Mike Iverson, reminded me the other day that he had first introduced me to the music of the Modern Mandolin Quartet about 25 years ago when he played me a cassette of their first album. I ended up buying a CD copy (one of my first CD purchases) soon after, and I must have listened to it dozens of times. I loved their version of the Canzonetta from Mendelssohn’s String Quartet #1, and their arrangement of part of Manuel de Falla’s “La Vida Breve.” It seemed to me to open up new possibilities for the mandolin, and soon I started messing with arrangements of a Stravinsky piece and tried to write some of my own music for the Quartet (I never sent any of it, as I rightly felt I had a fair bit of work to do to get it in proper shape). And now here I am, playing as a member the group and finding out that we’ve been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance category. Thanks, Mike, for introducing me to this group and thus nudging my musical direction into the gorgeous, varied and challenging world of classical mandolin.
I’m honored to be part of the Modern Mandolin Quartet and to call Paul, Dana and Adam my friends. We hope to be touring a little more regularly over the coming few years (I’m guessing the Grammy nomination will probably help with that!), and hope to do some more recording in the near future as well. Look for another album in the next year or so. And I want to also say that I (and the rest of the Quartet) am very grateful to the folks who really brought this CD up a notch or two: Dan Shores, who recorded the CD so beautifully in surround sound, and producers Victor and Marina Ledin, who helped get the most out of us.
For more information about “Americana” or to order a copy, visit our online store.
By Theme Admin on July 3rd, 2012 at 4:49 AM
New Acoustic music has now been around for a good 40 years or so, starting with the early experimentations of people like Tony Trischka and David Grisman. It’s come a long way since its beginnings in the early 70s, and has helped bring modern string band and/or bluegrass music into what feels like a modern renaissance, with the emergence of great young bands such as the Punch Brothers, Crooked Still, The Infamous Stringdusters and so many others. In the modern age of the internet, music gets mixed in every imaginable way; this music is not just a mix of bluegrass and jazz anymore (as New Acoustic music started, for want of a better description). We now have classical music, funk, modern pop and traditional musics of the world (Celtic, Scandinavian, Eastern European and African styles) finding their way into the mix (among other things I’m sure I’ve left out). Today, when you’re a young musician playing the banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass or Dobro, you’re not stylistically limited in the way we might have imagined in the past. A vast world of music is waiting for you, and it’s an exciting, unlimited adventure that can take you to places you didn’t know existed—from Dawg music to Vasen to the Goat Rodeo Sessions and beyond. Welcome to the world of modern American string band music!
If I had to pick the five greatest New Acoustic albums (okay, CDs, errr, umm….downloads) of ALL TIME (meaning since the 1970s), I’d pick these….but after going through this list I found I’d have to add one more and make it six. There are just too many good ones out there. My hope is that by checking these out you might explore these artists and other related artists further to find out what all they have to offer. New Acoustic music has grown to become a high expression of American roots musics, and I think it ought to be recognized as a unique art form. These are six albums that helped create the foundation of this art form, and they showcase some of the most exciting music by the virtuosos of the past few decades.
THE DAVID GRISMAN QUINTET
This is the album that really started it all. Bill Monroe’s landmark band in 1946 included Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Cedric Rainwater, and is often referred to as the “Original Bluegrass Band.” This would be the New Acoustic equivalent: David Grisman (mandolin), Tony Rice (guitar), Darol Anger (fiddle), Todd Phillips (2nd mandolin) and Bill Amatneek (bass). They created a new sound, and paved the way for so many others. The music is sort of like bluegrass, sort of jazzy, and throughout contains particularly brilliant arranging. David Grisman calls this “Dawg” music, and it definitely bears his unmistakable stamp. Listen to the sometimes sparse textures on “Pneumonia” and “Fish Scale,” or the intense drive of “E.M.D.” and “Opus 57,” or the laid-back swing of “Swing 51″ and “Blue Midnite.” And it also introduces one of Grisman’s early signature sounds: twin (and sometimes triple) mandolins. “Ricochet” is an elegantly simple tune with three mandolins playing the lead and harmonies (much like Bill Monroe’s triple fiddle tunes in the 60s, but sort of turned on its head) with a sparse underlying tapestry provided by the guitar, fiddle and bass. The fiery virtuosity of Tony Rice combined with Grisman’s ability to create space and drama in his music created something that was contagiously exciting and new, and would help turn on a whole new generation of young people to New Acoustic music (and, by extension, bluegrass).
A ROBOT PLANE FLIES OVER ARKANSAS
While Grisman was busy creating “Dawg” music in the San Francisco Bay Area, a group of young players in the New York City area were creating a scene of their own. Tony Trischka (banjo), Andy Statman (mandolin), Russ Barenberg (guitar), and Matt Glaser and Kenny Kosek (fiddles) were at the forefront of new sounds in the Northeast starting in the early 70s. This album, to me, best represents the brilliance of that scene with stellar playing by Trischka, Statman and Barenberg, along with Evan Stover on fiddle (and adding some sublime arranging). The wonderful set of tunes are all written by Trischka, who is one of the most prolific and adventurous writers in this style. Stylistically this album is pretty wide-ranging: from hard driving bluegrass stuff like “Purchase Grover” and “Pour Brel” to full-on New Acoustic sounds in “Blown Down Wall” and “The Navigator” to classical experimentation in “Avondale” and the title track. Plus we get to hear some of the West Coast players: Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Tony Rice and Todd Phillips (on bass, the instrument for which he is primarily known) join Trischka on a few of the tracks. It’s a good snapshot of what was going on on both coasts in the early 80s, and showcases Trischka’s energy and creativity as well as any of his many recordings.
It’s perhaps hard to label this a New Acoustic album. This might be best classified as a bluegrass album—but its influence is (or should be) so wide-ranging that it’s impossible to ignore here. Bela Fleck, the maestro of the 5-string banjo, has put out dozens of great albums over the last 30 years, but this is the one most of us (musicians, that is) end up recommending to our friends. During the 1970s and 80s, a young bunch of musicians were emerging that would raise the bar for bluegrass instrumental technique. Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Stuart Duncan, Mark O’Connor and Mark Schatz all became top players on their respective instruments, and they are all easy to find on various bluegrass recordings from, say, 1980 to the present. But this is the project that brought them all together to do what they do best. Like Grisman, Fleck has a knack for writing memorable melodies and creating dramatic effect in his arrangements. He also often writes tunes that bring out the strengths of his fellow musicians: “Up and Around the Bend” showcases Stuart Duncan and Mark O’Connor on fiddles. And it’s like a classic fiddle tune, but with a twist as Fleck puts in more space than you’d expect in the intro and the ending. “The Lights of Home” is a great vehicle for Jerry Douglas’ expressive, lyrical Dobro playing. “Down in the Swamp” had to be written for the mandolin, and the mando/fiddle combination (plus the banjo tuned down to open E) is a great texture here that you want to hear again and again. And it does indeed get into New Acoustic territory with the complex tune “Sanctuary,” before settling back into the bluegrassy farewell of “The Open Road” (listen to the end, where the guitar, mandolin and then banjo each play a standard tag lick as if to say goodbye). This is a brilliantly orchestrated album from start to finish, and absolutely essential listening if you want to get a sense of modern instrumental bluegrass.
Mike Marshall and Darol Anger have been as adventurous and exploratory as any musicians in this style. Seemingly boundless in energy and ideas, their duo performances are like a firecracker about to explode. Mandolin and fiddle might not sound like the most convincing duet, but it works for these guys. Plus they add other instruments to the mix to change up the textures; Marshall plays mandocello on a few cuts (Mike is perhaps the premier mandocellist, playing the premier mandocello in the world, built by John Monteleone), plus fiddle, guitar and mandola. And Anger plays his signature low violin (tuned an octave lower than a normal violin), cello, mandolin and mandola as well. Multiple mandolin textures are used beautifully on “Wall of Mando Madness” and Chick Corea’s “Children’s Song #6.” From the funky “Rotagilla” to the shaking out of the old “Golden Slippers” to the wild flights of “Gator’s Dream,” this album sounds like two young players happily exploring the edges of their creativity and making a few jokes along the way (listen to the car crash on “Donna Lee”). It’s a fun ride with two of the greats.
THE TELLURIDE SESSIONS
Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and Mark O’Connor are joined by bassist Edgar Meyer to create something altogether different as the group Strength in Numbers. Meyer’s background in classical bass and composition probably has a fair bit to do with this being a wonderfully unique piece of work. Emphasis is more on form and melodic development than on hot solos (though this album certainly has those too), and textures are crystal clear with each instrument generally serving a specific role rather than just playing rhythm. A few tunes, like “Macedonia” and “Texas Red,” are somewhat bluegrassy but still can’t be pinned down as a standard “AABB” form—they develop in interesting ways to take the listener further down the road. Guitar is surprisingly left out of the mix (my guess is for more transparency of sound); but O’Connor does get to shine on the guitar on the intense tune “Slopes,” and Fleck adds guitar to the lyrical “One Winter’s Night,” which also features Sam Bush on fiddle to create a lovely arco texture between the two fiddles and Meyer’s bowed bass. Meyer finishes the album out with a frenzy on “The Blue Men of the Sahara,” and we feel like we’ve been taken on a journey to some distant undiscovered planet.
This album, perhaps more than the others, is one that paved the way for where we are now, especially in the realm of chamber-music influenced string band music. The Punch Brothers, led by Chris Thile, are the current pinnacle of where the bluegrass band format is today (in my humble opinion). My guess is that they probably could not have come into existence, at least not in their wonderfully complex yet accessible way, without this album—at the very least I think it would have taken them longer to get there.
Jerry Douglas is always worth hearing, and seems to lift the players around him to a higher plane on any recording he’s part of. Add Russ Barenberg, one of the most lyrical guitarists and greatest tune smiths around, plus the versatile virtuoso Edgar Meyer and you’ve got a musically stout trio. And the writing on this album is especially strong: there are driving classics from each in Barenberg’s “Big Bug Shuffle,” Douglas’ “From Ankara to Izmir” and Meyer’s humorous “Squeezy Pig.” And lyrical ballads from each as well: Meyer’s’ “The Years Between,” Barenberg’s “Here on Earth” and Barenberg & Douglas’ “Hymn of Ordinary Motion.” And there’s the unforgettable “Monkey Bay.” Plus this album may be solely responsible for reviving the classic fiddle tune “Big Sciota” (featuring guest Sam Bush on mandolin), which has since become a jam standard. This album (in my opinion) reaches a height of beauty unlike any other New Acoustic album to date, and is still just as moving to listen to as it was 20 years ago.
Like all good music, New Acoustic music will surely continue to evolve in exciting and unpredictable ways. If you want to explore further, check out recordings by any of the artists mentioned above and see where they lead you. And don’t forget about the early Godfathers of this music, too: Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli! For my own take on this music, here are a couple more albums you might want to check out:
Featuring Jerry Douglas, Todd Phillips, Darol Anger, David Grier, Stuart Duncan, Tim O’Brien and Mike Marshall. We recorded this CD back in 1997, and David Grier, Todd Phillips (who produced it) and I were the core trio, adding fiddle players on almost all the cuts and Dobro on a few as well. This CD was definitely influenced by many of the above musicians—Grisman’s shadow is obvious on “City Chickens,” and I think Jerry Douglas’ sense of melody probably unconsciously had a lot to do with “The View From Here” and “The Village Road.” I was honored to have these guys be part of this project, and floored by what they did. Stuart Duncan’s double stops on “The Village Road” are sublime, and Darol Anger’s spooky solo on “Nowthen” on his low violin is classic. Plus David Grier’s playing throughout is some of my favorite that I’ve ever heard from him. It was an inspiring time for me for sure, and made me work a whole lot harder to try to be as good as this CD turned out to be.
I get to travel and play music with two amazing musicians and wonderful human beings—Ross Martin and Eric Thorin. As the Matt Flinner Trio, we’ve been doing what we call “Music du Jour” for about six years now; on most of our shows, each of us writes a new tune the day of the show and then all three new tunes are performed on that night’s concert. At the time we recorded “Winter Harvest,” we had done about 70 of these shows (we’ve now done just over 100), and had quite a stack of material to choose from. We picked tunes that we felt showed our strengths as a trio, and that seemed to push the boundaries for what a bluegrass trio can do. Ross’ “Arco” puts a sparse texture of guitar and mandolin in 7/8 against a bowed bass melody in 4/4. Eric’s “Wheels” uses an unexpected form (putting a solo at the end of the reading of the melody, then doing it all again followed by another solo to close things out) and another layering technique. And “Bucolic Futurism” messes with tempos and creates a unison line that expands into three distinct voices as it moves along. As we continue our “Music du Jour” project, we’ll see where the music takes us into the future. But all of this music owes a great debt to Grisman, Fleck, Rice, Trischka, Barenberg, Anger, Bush, Duncan, Douglas, Marshall, Phillips, Meyer, Statman, etc. etc. If I may say, I love you all and am grateful for the music you’ve given us!
Now, to quote a friend, onward and upward…
By Theme Admin on June 14th, 2012 at 4:42 PM
This week’s video comes from a show by the Matt Flinner Trio at the O.C. Tanner Amiptheater in Springdale, UT on June 2, 2012. The tune, “Raji’s Romp,” was inspired by an interception and touchdown run by B.J. Raji of the Green Bay Packers a couple of years ago, which helped the Packers go on to the Superbowl by defeating the Chicago Bears. I finally got around to writing my tune of the day after the game was over, and being a Packers fan, I was in a good mood.
The tune was written for a show at Avogadro’s Number in Ft. Collins, CO on Jan 23, 2011, and is featured on our “Winter Harvest” CD. For more info or to order a copy, click here.
By Theme Admin on June 13th, 2012 at 7:43 PM
The Midwest Banjo Camp has been happening for the last eight years; being a mandolin player who still loves to play the banjo, I was honored to be asked by Ken Perlman to teach this year as a bluegrass banjo instructor. It was my first time being hired as a banjo teacher at one of these camps, so I was curious to see how it would go.
Here’s my first class:
Right off the bat you’ve got a room full of banjos. And though the jokes do indeed creep into my mind (the Far Side cartoon in which the classical conductor is shown to his room in Hell can’t help but occur to me), you hold off because you see that these people are sincerely here to learn (plus, frankly, you’re grossly outnumbered). And they’re putting themselves out there in a situation that is probably new to most of them. And they’re probably a little nervous about playing in front of everyone else. And as time passed I began to realize that this wasn’t just a banjo camp, it was kind of a safe haven where banjo players go to talk about banjos, to listen to some of their favorite players, to hang out and play banjo tunes and talk about string gauges and head tightness and alternate tunings and just be together as kindred spirits. And for four days, guys like Bill Keith and Mac Benford are not just respected musicians, it’s like they’re supreme rulers of our little world on the campus of Olivet College. And it goes without saying that they really don’t need to hear the same old jokes from some jackass mandolin player.
As I enter this banjo world I’m reminded of my own banjo story: I’ve been a complete banjo nerd for a good part of my life (from age 10 to age 23 or so, and off and on since then). I lived and breathed the music of Alan Munde, Doug Dillard, Bill Keith, Butch Robins, Pete Wernick, Bela Fleck and of course Earl Scruggs. I’d sit in school and imagine having the banjo in my hands, and tuning the 4th string down to C just for fun and then try to figure out how to play the Star Spangled Banner in my head. On the nerd scale I was probably damn near if not right at a 10. But the banjo brought me comfort and I could lose myself in it for hours just playing “Old Joe Clark.” It was never a chore, it was just something I loved to do.
So imagine my excitement when I get to actually play with a couple of these guys—Alan Munde and Bill Keith—in jam sessions and in a few classes we were teaching together. Here I am sitting in a circle of folks watching Bill Keith tear into “Cherokee Shuffle” in his inimitable melodic style, and I’ve got the next solo. I feel a little giddy, I have to say. And I think all the students in our circle do, too.
When I was a teenager, the record that I was obsessed with probably more than any other was one by Sam Bush and Alan Munde titled “Together Again for the First Time.” Being a big Munde fan, I tried to learn everything he played on any record I had with him on it, and that record with Sam Bush represented, to me, the height of Munde’s playing. Intricate, difficult tunes, standards played in new and exciting ways, and a relaxed yet adventurous vibe that made you laugh while your jaw was dropping. I was also getting pretty heavily into the mandolin at that time, and Sam Bush’s playing became my model. I learned every note of his fiddle solos on “Forked Deer,” and playing those solos over and over again on the mandolin was a huge part of my musical education and growth.
So anyway, we instructors were asked to play two tunes each as part of the staff concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. Having that recording so embedded in my consciousness, how could I not ask Alan Munde to play “Forked Deer” with me? So I did. And he agreed. And my banjo nerd-dom came full circle. I was thrilled to be playing my favorite tune with one of my all-time heroes.
By the way, “Together Again for the First Time,” which has been out of print for many years, is soon going to be reissued on Compass Records. It’s long long overdue, and I hope it will receive the attention and praise that it so richly deserves as a fantastic representation of the music of two giants of modern bluegrass, and as (in my humble opinion) the absolute forefront of instrumental bluegrass music of its time.
So back to the camp…by Sunday I felt pretty saturated, but there were still a couple of classes to teach, and one demonstration to give about playing fiddle tunes on the banjo. And lo and behold, the other instructors on the session are Alan O’Bryant, Russ Barenberg and Alan Munde. It was a great way to end the camp for me, and I got to be part of some of the most fun jamming I’ve done in a while with three guys I respect so highly.
If you’re a banjo nerd like me and you’re wondering where to go to get that little bit of inspiration or direction you feel you’re lacking (or if you just want to talk about string gauges or head tightness), I’d highly recommend the Midwest Banjo Camp in 2013.
By Theme Admin on June 13th, 2012 at 7:29 PM
It’s been a sad year in American roots music, as we say goodbye to another giant in bluegrass and folk music, Arthel “Doc” Watson. It seems like we just lost banjo legend Earl Scruggs—just when we caught our breath we got the sad news that Doc passed away on May 29. Like Earl, Doc was in his late 80s (he died at age 89), and kept performing until the end. And also like Earl, he brought so much beautiful music and positive energy into this world…
I looked around for some videos of Doc performing, and thought I’d share some of my favorites with you. Seems to me we should start with “Black Mountain Rag”—one of Doc’s signature tunes, and one that has been copied perhaps more than any other by aspiring young guitar players.
I saw some liner notes written by Pat Brayer on a David Grier album several years ago that drew a direct line in the history of bluegrass guitar from Riley Puckett to Doc Watson to Clarence White to David Grier. I think Pat nailed it (though personally I’d probably add Tony Rice as another offshoot from Clarence White). Doc was the first person to really play lead guitar in the bluegrass style that we call “flatpicking,” and it must have seemed pretty revolutionary in the early 60s to see this unassuming man tear into “Black Mountain Rag” or “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” Doc’s influence was huge—flatpicking guitar began with him, and to this day he’s still the standard reference for so much of it.
But merely calling Doc a bluegrass artist or a flatpicker doesn’t do him justice, as there was so much more to Doc Watson music than just bluegrass or old-time music. He was a great country blues player as well (he often credited Mississippi John Hurt as a major influence), and his Merle Travis-style fingerpicking was a big part of his music.
Here’s an early clip of Doc playing another of his signature songs: “Deep River Blues.”
I first saw Doc perform around 1981 in Park City, UT at a little club. He had his son Merle Watson with him (Merle tragically died in a tractor accident in 1985) along with T. Michael Coleman on the bass. So many of Doc’s classic recordings were made during this period; Merle’s bluesy fingerpicking and slide guitar added a wonderful dimension to Doc’s music. Here they are from sometime in the early 80s performing a two songs: “Make Me a Pallet” and “Streamline Cannonball.”
And I have to include my all-time favorite version of the standard “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” This is from Doc’s very first LP from 1962, and it’s just Doc by himself. I find his his bluesy guitar playing and understated singing very moving…I’d highly recommend this one!
Here’s another rendition of Doc playing that song much later in his life. He tells a story about picking cherries as a young man, and helping his younger sister (who, like him, was blind) get up into the tree to sit next to him.
When you go through Doc Watson videos on YouTube, you find a big variety of stuff that spans about 50 years. And it’s all good. Someone told me a few years ago that Doc still practiced the guitar every day, even well into his 80s. I don’t know if that was true or not, but I’d certainly believe it. His playing was still fiery, tasteful, and solid—and always so highly musical right to the end. Doc seemed to be a fully formed artist when he emerged in 1962 with his first Vanguard record, and looking back over his career you see a great body of work that never suffered with age, never seemed “burned out” or tired, and never even really repeated itself. And it was always delivered with grace and charm. Go seek out Doc and Merle’s “Down South” CD, or that first solo record, or “Pickin the Blues” (with Merle Watson and Sam Bush!), or “Portrait.” Or anything he did. You won’t be disappointed.
Doc Watson was the heart and soul of bluegrass guitar. He will be greatly missed.
By Theme Admin on June 7th, 2012 at 1:38 PM
This week I thought I’d introduce the “Music du Jour” project into the video of the week. As you may know, on most of the Matt Flinner Trio shows we write new music the day of the show to perform that night—basically one tune by each member of the trio, for three new tunes every night. I’ve been hesitant to add these new “du Jour” performances to our video channel, as I don’t know what tunes will end up getting recorded on our CDs, and I’m not sure I want to end up with a CD full of material that is already out there on YouTube. Anyway, I liked this performance enough to give it a go. I wrote this tune while on the road between Richmond, VT to Putney, VT. After rejecting a few ideas, the idea for this tune seemed to take shape somewhere near White River Junction; hence the title.
In our du Jour shows we’re often trying to change things up to keep the material fresh and varied. I gave the main melody to the bass and then tried to pass it around a fair bit to vary the texture. Then in the middle, Ross and I trade solos and build up into the reprise of the B melody back into the bass melody—sort of a backwards version of the beginning.
This video was made at the Next Stage Theater in Putney, VT on March 25, 2012 (the same day the tune was written). We hope you enjoy it!
By Theme Admin on May 31st, 2012 at 12:59 PM
This week’s video is a beautiful tune written by Ross Martin, “Bitterroot.” This tune was written in Hailey, ID (in the Sun Valley area) after driving from Missoula, MY through the Bitterroot Mountains. When we arrived at the venue (the Ezra Pound Home, which is operated by the Sun Valley Arts Council) about 90 minutes or so before showtime, we asked each other how our tunes were coming along. Ross said something like, “I’m about to start writing mine.” And in what must have been about 30-45 minutes, this is what he had. I guess there’s nothing like necessity to facilitate inspiration! Or maybe it was just the beautiful drive.
This is the first tune we knew we had to record for our “Winter Harvest” CD, and it helped set the tone for the whole disc. This video was recorded at Down Home Guitars in Frankfort, IL (just outside of Chicago) on Oct 15, 2011. Enjoy!
By Theme Admin on May 24th, 2012 at 5:11 PM
Not much to say about this one. If you like banjo music, especially loud and fast banjo music, and you wonder how the banjo could be made to sound faster and louder, then this video might be for you. Recorded at the Ghost Ranch Bluegrass Camp with help from Eli West.
By Theme Admin on May 17th, 2012 at 5:13 PM
In January of 2012 I got to be part of something unique. Bassist Greg Garrison puts together a series in Denver called “Improvised Roots,” in which jazz musicians and bluegrass musicians meet with the commonality of improvisational ability, interest in roots music, and a good dose of courage. His lineup for the January shows included singer/guitarist Aoife O’Donovan, local sax giant John Gunther, myself, Matt Flinner on mandolin and banjo, and one of my musical heroes, Dave Douglas, on trumpet.
So the instrumentation for much of what we were going to play was to be bass, banjo, sax, trumpet and voice. Pretty weird ensemble. And I have to say I felt a little nervous being the only chordal instrument. I’d have to practice more ways of playing a Bb7#9 chord to try to keep things interesting. Not to mention I don’t play the banjo all that often these days, and I’m called upon to play with some stellar players and a guy who I consider to be one of the best and most creative jazz musicians alive today.
It turned out to be a very fruitful mix for two nights at the Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge. Aoife’s often deceptively complex yet memorable songs went nicely into Dave’s intricate arrangements and virtuosic solos from him and John. And Greg tied the whole thing together with his tune, “Not Sure What That Is.” We figured out how to blend as an ensemble and in the end I think we achieved that ultimate goal of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And it was an absolute thrill ride. Thanks to Greg, Dave, Aoife and John for all the inspiration I walked away with.
By Theme Admin on May 10th, 2012 at 5:10 PM
When you’re in an instrumental group that plays mostly original material, you’ve got to go back to your roots from time to time to establish that connection with your past and remind everyone where all this music really comes from. Bill Monroe was the Father of Bluegrass Music, and wrote a lot of classic songs like “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Uncle Pen” and “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky.” He also wrote many many classic instrumentals such as “Rawhide,” “Big Mon” and this tune, “Wheel Hoss.” When we go back to our roots, Bill Monroe is certainly one of the places we go first.
This tune was recorded during our 100th “Music du Jour” show at the Chautauqua Community House in Boulder, CO on April 28, 2012.