Fleck, Meyer and Marshall

By Paul Moffett

In a way, the last Lonesome Pine Special of the 1997 season echoed all the way back to the Bluegrass Festivals of the early Eighties, when NewGrass Revival played. It was with that band that Bela Fleck made his first of many appearances in Louisville.

Since then, Fleck has been a staple of the Lonesome Pine Series, sometimes appearing with the Flecktones, sometimes with variations on the NewGrass/Sam Bush connection, sometimes as sideman, sometimes as leader, but always bringing his best playing to the stage. The December 12 show was no exception.

This time, Fleck and mandolin master Mike Marshall were there as sidemen to bassist Edgar Meyer, on whose new album, Uncommon Ritual, they all played. Fittingly, it was Meyer whose playing most often lit up the concert, although the musical candlepower present was quite sufficient for anyone.

The trio perched on the front apron of the stage, giving the show a "living room concert" feel. The casual banter between them reinforced that feeling, although whenever they put fingers to instruments, that casualness faded into the background and their superior musicianship soared to the forefront.

Meyer, for instance, frequently played fiddle/violin parts on his double bass. Not transposed down a couple of octaves, either, but with the highest notes of which the instrument is capable, and with passionate intensity. Marshall's playing rotated among several instruments, often within the same tune. In fact, all three switched instruments regularly, sometimes after "selecting" one from the Lonesome Pine backdrop.

Although Uncommon Ritual was released on the Sony Classical label, the music was anything but, with one exception: a Bach fugue. It was a measure of the quality of the material that the Bach piece was the least interesting work they played all night, although it did transfer successfully from keyboard to banjo.

More interesting were such whimsically named Meyer compositions as "Chromium Pickleate," "Sliding Down" and "The Barnyard Disturbance," an amusing and subtle work. Their version of "Swing 42," a tribute to the late Joe Venutti, was as fresh and witty as when Venutti and Django Reinhart played Le Jazz Hot.

Courier-Journal music columnist Jeffrey Puckett called the music "jazzical classigrass," which is as good a name as any. Whatever it was, the sold-out house loved it all and many copies of Uncommon Ritual no doubt left in pocket and purse that evening, ensuring another sold-out house for any possible additional concert.

I'll be there.