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The Duo Live: At Home and On The Range – Mike Marshall and Darol Anger

Compass Records 7 4333 2

In 1985, one of the most seminal albums from a new acoustic music
perspective was released. Titled Chiaroscuro, the album featured Mike
Marshall and Darol Anger's potent fusion of bluegrass, jazz and classical
idioms. Both Marshall and Anger had accumulated a myriad of musical voices
via their diverse band associations: Marshall with the Modern Mandolin
Quartet and Anger with the Turtle Island String Quartet. Along with their
penchant for string quartet performances, remained the connection to David
Grisman's dawg music. Grisman's compositions allowed each player not merely
a sonic realm for creative extemporizations, but also for the stimulation of
each musician's voice. In the liner notes to Mike Marshall's Brasil
(duets), Marshall mentions Grisman playing a tape of Jacob Do Bandolim
in the touring van. Do Bandolim's choro compositions were an agglomeration
of jazz, Latin and classical genres. For Anger, performing pieces such as
Chick Corea's "Spain" supplied him with clairvoyance apropos to the violin's
percussive qualities and thus the plausible extension of jazz in a string
quartet context.

However, for the mass population, the soothsaying of Anger and Marshall
remains unknown due to the paucity of material still in print by both
artists. Chiaroscuro, can be purchased, yet only in extremely limited
availability. All of the Modern Mandolin Quartet's and Turtle Island String
Quartet's releases, along with the releases by Windham Hill's harbinger band
Montreux (which featured Marshall, Anger, Michael Manring, and Barbara
Higbie) are out of print. At, a futile number of CDs of
Montreux's Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival can still be purchased
from Anger personally, but the exorbitant price alone could bring
trepidation to the uninitiated (though the performance has been considered
the finest ever by the pair). Only one album, Mike Marshall's Gator
Strut (on Rounder Records) can be easily purchased and offers a fleeting
glimpse of Marshall and Anger's astute musical creations. For fans of Bela
Fleck's Perpetual Motion, Gator Strut contains the archetypal
version of "Bach's Partita #3 in E major," which likely aided in Fleck's
performance of the piece.

Seventeen years removed from the paradigmatic release Chiaroscuro,
Duo Live succinctly recapitulates Anger and Marshall's musical pasts,
both released and unreleased, with the luxury of each musician's astounding
musical maturation. From the complex, confluence of bluegrass and Paganni in
the Marshall original "Shoot the Moon," to a classic duo reworking of the
mandocello funk piece "Gator Strut", both Marshall and Anger have simply
advanced beyond even their supposed virtuosity.

Almost on a cabalistic level, Marshall and Anger, with two instruments,
weave together a sound at times as full as the David Grisman Quintet. Then,
in a matter of seconds, the two will dynamically subdue to the levels of a
Mozart passage. "Down in the Willow Garden" exemplifies the interplay, as
each player adds the necessary elements to complement the other player's
solos. For example, Anger will create a percussive mandolin chop on his
fiddle as Marshall plays a convoluted melody. Upon Marshall's completion, a
wilting violin enters, and Marshall, with extraordinary acumen, combines
percussive guitar phrasings with counterpoint melodic lines. Rather than
capriciously improvising, Marshall and Anger seemingly write classical
"contrapuncti" for each other's playing with no prior contemplation.

Given the interplay between the two, several tracks on Duo Live
preeminently reflect Anger and Marshall's fusion techniques. Both "Jerusalem
Ridge" and "In the Pines" are bandied to such an extent that the visages of
these eternal melodies are merely a vestige. From a presentational level,
both are classical in some extent, slowed down immeasurably rather than
adhering to the bluegrass penchant for speed. The languid nature allows
both musicians the ability to play with the songs melodic points, reconstructing each pieces' main notes. To underscore their remarkable
talents, Anger and Marshall employ J.S. Bach's fugal discoveries reaching a moment where analysis ceases and appreciative listening is suggested.

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