As an acclaimed maestro on a variety of stringed instruments (violin, mandolin, guitar) Mike Marshall can call upon just about anyone in the field of progressive bluegrass to accompany him on an album. For his fresh-out-of-the-oven album Mike Marshall’s Big Trio, he sticks with acoustic guitar and enlists the help of young men who by appearances seemed better prepared to play Jonas Brothers tunes than a complex, multi-part concoction of classical, bluegrass, folk and jazz.
Paul Kowert, at twenty-one years old, had recently become the bass player for the bluegrass group the Punch Brothers (headlined by mandolin player Chris Thile) and plays a double bass plucked or bowed with equally terrifying proficiency. Alex Hargreaves is already an accomplished violinist at age sixteen. In June, 2007, Alex became the youngest ever winner of the Grand Champion division at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest in Weiser, Idaho. Like Kowest, he’s shared the stage with several acoustic legends, like David Grisman, Darol Anger and.
So, you see, looks can be deceiving. But their artistry is for real.
The music contained in this joyful set puts out the energy and enthusiasm of bluegrass, the elegance of classical, the lyrical awareness of folk and the chops of jazz. My personal favorite is mood-changing “Three Dragons.” Marshall and Hargreaves both put in some lively playing on the mandolin and violin, respectively on “Little Bears.” Kowert on “Sweets Mill” underpins the song with a bowed bass, then dispenses with the bow to pluck out a lovely waltz.
On these cuts and everywhere else, everyone alters their roles within a song so frequently and fluidly, there must be a certain amount of mental telepathy required to pull it off. But as complex as it might be to do it, the resulting music is very unburdensome to the ears.
More than thirty years since Marshall started his professional career as a teenager, Mike Marshall is looking ahead and embracing the next generation of acoustic stringed instrument wizards. “If THIS is what the next generation of string musicians is going to be doing,” says Marshall, “then I’m riding with them. Let’s Go Guys!” Listening to Marshall’s Big Trio confirms that his enthusiasm is plenty justified.
Mike Marshall’s Big Trio, is out today on Adventure Music Records…a label specializing in acoustic and Brazilian music, and one whose releases we found ourselves enjoying here a lot of late. Incidentally, it’s the label that Marshall himself founded in 2003.