Mandolinist Chris Thile and bassist Edgar Meyer are true titans of today’s acoustic music. This latest collaboration comes on the rapid hooves of The Goat Rodeo Sessions, their Grammy award-winning project with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and fiddler Stuart Duncan. As with that outstanding album, Bass & Mandolin will resonate much more with newgrassers than true-blue ’grassers. But as on-the-edge and over-the-horizon as it frequently gets, the deep-rooted influence of bluegrass and the blues on these two amazing instrumentalists sprouts up again and again.
That’s true from the opening track “Why Only One?” which starts with an easy Appalachian lope that begets both sunny major variations and shadowy modal minors. “Tarnation” in particular is a hoedown-fiddle style number that sounds like “Old Joe Clark” and “Sally Gooden” chasing each other around rapidly rising mountain trails into particularly high altitudes. Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer are arguably among the greatest performers ever on their primary instruments. But among the exceptional pleasures of Bass & Mandolin is when these instruments are set aside to feature Meyer’s hauntingly-voiced piano (on “I’ll Remember For You,” as poignantly lovely as the tune’s own title) and the crisp, lilting guitar of Thile (with “Friday,” a real revelation of his increasing prowess on the six-string). Indeed, as experimental as the music gets here, it’s never grating and, at times, exhibits surprisingly sentimental gentleness (“The Auld Beagle”) or almost visual humor (“Big Top”).
Yes, this is an adventurous album and not for all tastes. But Bass & Mandolin will be particularly rewarding to listeners who enjoy new windows in acoustic music that open tonal vistas while also letting traditional influences shine through. (Nonesuch Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104, www.nonesuch.com.)RDS