Release Date: Aug 6, 2013
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Classical, Chamber Music
This Bach release by progressive bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile is one of the most widely publicized projects of its kind since the classical performances by jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in 1990, or even, before that, since Barbra Streisand's Classical Barbra release of 1976; Streisand, like Thile (as part of the band Nickel Creek), was a former resident of the pop top 20, which Marsalis never reached. Thile has been a gleeful genre crosser whose efforts have ranged from post-bop jazz to alternative rock to Bach several times in the past. And the idea of playing Bach on a mandolin is not so radical in itself; other plucked stringed instruments played significant roles in his musical world.
Chris Thile, the celebrated mandolin player from The Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek isn’t the first popular musician to cross over into classical music, but he might be the only one who has done it successfully. Genre-jumping of any kind is an extremely risky venture, and you don’t have to look very far to find examples of artists who have failed miserably when they’ve attempted to deviate from their established styles and images. Thankfully, these performances of Bach’s solo violin pieces arranged for the mandolin are so subtle, uplifting and accomplished that they should have the opposite effect and add to Thile’s already considerable reputation as one of the finest young string players on the circuit today.
Skills. Don’t try and fiddle with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach without them. As one of the most technically-demanding composers in the history of music, it is instantly evident to the ear if a musician is pussyfooting about with the Baroque kingpin. That’s why American mandolin player Chris Thile had his plate full when he decided to tackle Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas.
The indefinitely defunct bluegrass trio Nickel Creek released three albums before splitting up, each raising the stakes of the previous until the masterful Why Should the Fire Die? wowed in its ability to encapsulate the group’s inimitable sound. A good portion of what got critics and the general public enthralled about that record, as well as the two preceding it, was the fact that the aggregate age of the people involved added up to the expected age of a traditional bluegrass musician. At the time of the release of its self-titled debut LP, fiddle player Sara Watkins and mandolin speedster Chris Thile were but 19, with guitarist Sean Watkins beating them only by four years.