Blessed be the tune writers, for they shall give the pickers new things to play. Cursed be the tune writers, for they shall have a hard time getting their new tunes heard. Therefore, many composers of new bluegrass instrumentals have taken the same road followed by mandolinist Rudi Ekstein, who has recruited a stellar cast of fine players to feature his music on a CD of a dozen of his originals. Fiddler Stuart Duncan, guitarist Jeff Autry, and bassist Mark Schatz join Ekstein and a rotating trio of banjoists (Patrick Sauber, John Plotnik, and Seth Rhinehart) to present these new tunes in a most favorable light.
Part of what makes this concept effective is the dazzling professionalism of the players, with Duncan throwing out one of his typically jaw-dropping breaks on the up-tempo “All Night In Kentucky.” Also helpful is that Ekstein doesn’t hog the melodies on mandolin, but rather spreads them out among the various players, include Plotnik doubling on resonator guitar. This aids in giving the album a band vibe. It’s also beneficial to the appeal of this recording project that Ekstein’s tunes are sufficiently varied in feel and tempo, including bluesy grooves such as “Rockalachia” and “Hoot Owl Hop,” the gentle pace of “Dixie Sunset,” and the Texas dance-floor mood of “Jessy’s Fancy” that’s reminiscent of “Faded Love.” But there’s also no shortage of breakneck cookers like “Spikebuck” and “Back Drag.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Ekstein’s mandolin chops allow him to more than hold his own with an all-star cast of fine players. Whether any of his original compositions will enter the shared repertoire of jammers and performers is something that time, and only time, will determine. But while we wait to see, Ekstein has released an eminently listenable instrumental collection sure to please the bluegrass listener. (www.carolinachimes.com)HK