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Perpetual Motion – Bela Fleck
"Not All Who Wander Are Lost" – Chris Thile

Fleck: Sony Classical 89610

Thile: Sugar Hill Records 3931

The recent interest in the recondite elements of American string music has
reached enormous proportions. Artists, who often occupied their own genres,
were often given "their own tables to exhibit their work" as Miller Williams
might comment, have been forced to the forefront. An artless example:
Gillian Welch being on CMT. About five years ago, Ms. Welch released
"Revival," an album which has produced numerous chart-topping songs for
Emmylou Harris and others, yet she remained unknown. However, the recent
nostalgic reflection to a simpler time, exemplified in Alison Krauss latest
video of playing bluegrass in a bucolic setting, combined with idyllic,
guileless lyrics, taps into the modern American conscious; thus explaining
Ms. Welch receiving a long overdue introduction to the American public.

At the same time, the backward reflection will potentially impede a variety
of bluegrass players for generations. Bluegrass, for years, has occupied its
own market place, existing adequately, but also in an antediluvian sense.
The music has remained consistently the same, and with a renewed monetary
interest, the playing and style will continue indolence towards progression.

Sadly, such an obdurate opinion in bluegrass has occurred at the worst
possible moment. A desire for tradition and the rural will likely obscure,
and potentially obviate the talents of Bela Fleck and Chris Thile, each of
whom has recently released albums refusing to accept bluegrass mandatory
musical prerequisites. The releases of "Perpetual Motion" and "Not All Who
Wander Are Lost," respectively, reveal performers yearning to move bluegrass
into the affluent confines of modern classical music.

Fleck's release, "Perpetual Motion," does not merely hide classical elements
in a string band context, but decidedly exposes the banjo as a capable
instrument in a string quartet environment. Certain song selections, such as
Bach's Prelude from Parita #3 in E major have been, unequivocally in
a disingenuous manner, performed by a variety of bluegrass aficionados
including Mike Marshall. Therefore, the window into the classical world has
always been open, but Fleck – unlike his counterparts enters completely – eschewing bluegrass styled classical pieces for Chopin, Tchaikovsky and
Beethoven.

If classical music's success rests in catharsis, "Perpetual Motion" succeeds
when Fleck performs Chopins Mazurka in F-sharp Minor. Even the most
insipid classical listener has heard this Chopin melody, the way the music
builds from a minor to a major refrain, emulating Barber's Adagio for
Strings, in building moment wherein catharsis can occur. The key to
Mazurka in F-sharp minor concerns speed, and the appropriate change
in tempos to concisely enter into the major refrain, with no precipitating
entrance into the F-sharp minor conclusion. Fleck, mimicking the multiple
parts of a string quartet, does so in such a convincing manner, does so with
such effrontery (even possibly chicanery at one point) that the listener
cannot help but be moved in some manner. The emotionality, an ineffable
moment, moving beyond the jubilant feelings of hearing "In constant sorrow,
all through his day" and into a more synoptically stimulating point.
Nostaglia neglected for central, urbane perception.

Unlike Fleck, Thile takes a more standard approach to employing classical
elements into his "Not All Who Wander Are Lost". Similar to the Edgar
Meyer/Fleck/Marshall 1997 release "Uncommon Ritual," Thile writes
compositions melding classical and bluegrass into cohesive units; allowing
him the ability to employ his classical violin skills, with his infamous
bluegrass mandolin wizardry. Compositions such as Laurie De Tullins
and Song for a Young Queen are revelatory statements in the current
string band environment. Returning to the argument of catharsis, the simple
melody of Laurie De Tullins inexorably moves the listener. The story
which has attached itself to the melody, of young Thile in France writing
the melody upon seeing a beautiful woman, becomes excessive, intentional
information upon listening to the track. The depth of the composition, like
Fleck's approach to Chopin, resides not in the notes, but in what the notes
refuse to reveal: be the reticence regarding Laurie in the French country
side, the earnest longing of a young man, etc. ad nosium. A point of pure
elation and personal enjoyment, resides in what the song refuses to divulge.

At this point, the genius of both Fleck and Thile is revealed — in a moment
when the modern audience has returned to string band music where every
element becomes explicitly stated. Each song contains a story, and the
listener can accept the story of Little Maggie or Revelator
given the coalescence of the music and lyrics. Not unlike modern pop music,
wherein the collective consciousness becomes quiescent: here Fleck and
Thile, with their latest releases, eschew the current trends for a ground
breaking future and a return to music carrying meaning in a D major modal
scales or a Bb, B, C progression. Catharsis awaits the astute listener, and
Fleck and Thile deserve adulation of an unheard of level by such creations.

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