Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Music Review: “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile


The Goat Rodeo Sessions

A goat rodeo, according to Urban Dictionary, "is about the most polite
term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to
describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once
if you intend to walk away from it."

The above description is apt for this album. Not only is the album a mix of diverse styles, indeed diverse universes musically, and all the players bonifide superstars in their perspective musical genre with schedules that would wear out a workaholic.

These four musicians are also friends, and admire each others capabilities but to bring them together as a unified ensemble on a most remarkable and organic cross-genre project based on that friendship and respect was also a near miracle.

Scheduling heroics aside. Yo-Yo Ma sums it up: "In the end, what we're trying to do is simply make music that transcends whatever roots or categories or backgrounds that
it starts from--that just exists as something that we're trying to express, through our community of values, as a moment in time creating very special music."

"Edgar made a good point that the four of us are here because each of
us enjoys hearing the other three do what they do best," Thile says,
"and these are the people that we want to hear! And the music was
composed with that in mind - maintaining what's special about the
individual voices and trying to find something new as a group, within
that context."


"We want the freedom to not have the music immediately defined by a
couple of words," explains Meyer. "But at its root, Yo-Yo's going for
the same thing that Stuart's going for, that Chris is going for--which
is to completely internalize the music, and to play it without any
kind of exterior references or even knowing what it is we're going
for, but with an easy agreement among the four of us in knowing when
we get there."

The album succeeds on all fronts, uniquely showcasing multi Grammy Winner and classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, classical, bluegrass, newgrass, and jazz bassist Edgar Meyer, country-folk vocalist and mandolinist Chris Thile from acoustic band Nickel Creek and bluegrass fiddler Stuart Duncan.

The end result is music that is indefinable, exciting and eclectic. At times you’ll want to get up and dance a hoedown, and a few seconds later check the fit of your cumber bun and adjust the bow tie on your tux. It’s almost surreal as you find yourself caught up in what feels like classical chamber music and then you realize that’s a blue grass fiddle, or you are drifting along on an instrumental folk tune and Yo-yo’s cello takes you to a concert stage with increasingly complicated dynamic changes and time signatures such as on “Attaboy”.

“Attaboy” The Goat Rodeo Sessions

And to make this album that much more surprising, considering the vastly different backgrounds of the musicians and styles and genre, which in and of itself is a Goat Rodeo ,the album  listened to in its entirety, has a certain consistency that just shouldn’t be there. Yo-yo Ma is classically trained and doesn’t improvise, but plays as if he does, the others, who composed and wrote parts for the songs, played off of hand written notes. Collectively, instead of sitting in isolation booths, they all sat in a circle in the same room and fed off each other. Thile played everything from memory, by ear.

There’s also two vocal tracks featuring Thile and guest artist Aoife O'Donovan, the lead vocalist and writer for progressive bluegrass group Crooked Still. "No One But You" and "Here And Heaven”  “Here and Heaven” is  breathtaking in the instrumental flexibility of Duncan's switch from fretless banjo to fiddle, Thile's trade-off from gamba (a Renaissance stringed instrument) to mandolin and Meyer's exchange of
gamba for bass. Additionally the vocal itself is marvelously beautiful melody delivered in a surreal folksy style.

These four masters, these four friends have managed to create order out of the Goat Rodeo chaos. To create, if only for this one album, a new identity and a new genre that at once sounds different, yet familiar, indefinable yet accessible. Mostly it just sounds beautiful, enjoyable and habit forming.

The Goat Rodeo Sessions Available October 24, 2011 on Sony Masterworks


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Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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