Audio Mixer: Justin Peacock.
This release by Colorado banjoist Jake Schepps, who up to this time had recorded arrangements of existing classical works, proclaims that it contains "some of the first-ever long-form works written by classical composers for the traditional 5-piece bluegrass string band" as pioneered by Bill Monroe & His Bluegrass Boys in the 1940s. It's necessary to hedge slightly, for the farthest edges of West Coast progressive bluegrass, which even a figure as successful as Chris Thile has been touched by, include pieces with composed elements, and a piece like Marc Mellits' "Flatiron" is not far from that tradition. Several of the players, notably San Francisco-area veteran mandolinist Matt Flinner, come out of that region where bluegrass, jazz, chamber folk, and classical music meet at a four-corners point, and Flinner's own "Migrations" again is not far from the music he's played in the past. The most distinctive work is Gyan Riley's concluding "Stumble Smooth," which makes use of the percussive quality of the banjo and other bluegrass instruments, which is one of the features that makes bluegrass so appealing in the first place. Matt McBane's "Drawn" departs from progressive bluegrass models in a more minimal direction. Nothing here is less than appealing for the progressive bluegrass fan for whom the music is likely intended, and banjoist Schepps, also serving as producer, delivers admirably clear and idiomatic sound from a trio of Colorado studios. Recommended for anyone interested in hearing progressive bluegrass pushed one click past where it has gone before, or for fans of contemporary classical music curious about what can be done with one of the classic ensembles of American vernacular music. ~ James Manheim