Into The Cauldron – Mike Marshall/Chris Thile
Sugar Hill Records 3967
Mike Marshall remains addled by the perception of the mandolin in American
culture. Listen to Marshall discuss the mandolin for a few minutes, and he
will typically mention European classical training of the instrument, where
students are forced to accurately perform certain picking motions. As a
consequence of the American culture not having a learning environment for
the mandolin, a lack of adherence to notation can be easily noticed in most
mandolinists’ playing. Marshall contends few performers differentiate 8th
notes from 16th notes. Whole and half notes on the mandolin have become a
long forgotten element, passed over for the joy of audience applause at
speed. No, to rephrase, decent form in its entirety has been obviated for
Marshall doesn’t bring up these issues, of playing with grace, reading
music, and of reaching an intellectual zenith with the mandolin, to stroke
his ego. He makes these comments to offer other mandolinists a level to
achieve rather than the commonly held belief in "speed as the great
equalizer." Focusing on pick techniques, on reading music, on performing
other genres of music, Marshall hopes to enlighten other future mandolinists
in how to appreciate the art of their instrument.
On Into the Cauldron, which features Marshall with another
well-trained mandolinist in Chris Thile, the duo of Marshall and Thile offer
an alternative soundtrack for the aspiring mandolinist. The duo performs
Bach impeccably. They cover jazz, both bebop and fusion. They recast a
traditional fiddle tune in a sophisticated, polyphonal manner. They show an
appetite for rock progressions. They, no guess here given Marshall’s recent
world music leanings, cover a Brazillian choro.
More importantly, they lucidly reveal the mandolin’s inherent sonic beauty.
How an instrument, long associated with guttural tones, can have a wide
spectrum of tones, can sound like a piano in approximating Glenn Gould’s
arrangement of the first variation of "The Goldberg Variations." Similarly,
the duo approximates the tones of a guitar on Charlie Parker’s "Scrapple
from the Apple," while reaching an almost ethereally ineffable tone on the
harmonics-filled "Shamrock Shore."
The album has a quality vaguely reminiscent of John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola
and Paco DeLucas’s Friday Night in San Francisco. Guitar fans were
enamored with the album upon its release, typically exasperating adjectives
in discussing the trio’s talents. But the standard music listener could also
enjoy the release, knowing they were hearing something stunning, even if
they weren’t aware of the techniques for the arduous fret movements or
lissome flamenco flourishes.
Similarly with Into the Cauldron’s munificent eclecticism, not only
do Marshall and Thile offer the amateur mandolinist a necessary purchase,
but also make the release palpable for the common music fan. If we return to
the Friday Night in San Francisco comparison, some of the more
intriguing technical aspects of their mandolin agility might go unnoticed by
the standard music fan — however, never to a level which would trammel
anyone’s appreciation of the duo’s orotund excursions.