Most people think of the mandolin as being a rootsy, countrified kind of instrument. Surely there is no denying the rich history of the bluegrass side of the mandolin. Yessir, Bill Monroe was the king, but that does not mean that the mandolin can't move ahead (or back, as we shall see). For example, check out the fabulous blues talents of Gerry Hundt. Chicago blues from the mandolin? Hell, yes!
It's important to remember that the mandolin has a past as well, related to instruments such as the lute and the oud, and actually going quite a bit farther back than that.
This is why the music presented in Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg should not come as a surprise. Lichtenberg is a classical phenom and Marshall can do it all. He played in the early years of David Grisman's great quintet, and has gone on to collaborate with names such as Michael Manring, Mark O'Connor, Tony Rice, and Stephane Grappelli. The program contains music from the classical tradition to music from Venezuala and Bulgaria. There are also a pair of compositions written my Marshall.
As an opening piece, you really can't go wrong with a little J.S. Bach. The intertwined lines from "Violin Sonata III in C major" are just stunning, partly because of the virtuosity involved and partly because the musicians manage to retain a certain warmth despite the fretboard athletics.
This duo uses their apparent musical chemistry to their advantage on all of the selections here. Marshall's "The Cat, The Mouse and The Chicken" is a perfect example. Arpeggios come in close and then veer off in different directions, making subtle modifications to the central theme. The composition reminds my ears of a mandolin duo meditation on Copeland. The other original selection here is "Dec. 29th," a searching piece that brings Satie to mind.
For sheer fun, the Bulgarian traditional song "Gankino" is terrific. I've never heard the original, so I've got no frame of reference, but it does sound like the pair have added modern twists here and there. In any event, the crystalline lines and jaunty rhythm work are not to be missed.
Perhaps the biggest discover for me was the music of Jose Antonio Zambrano. "Suite Venezolana" is just gorgeous. The interplay during the faster passages is breathtaking (particularly on "Fiesta Criolla"), and the sense of intimacy painted by "Tonada" is laden with emotion.
So yes, the mandolin is intimately connected to American roots music, but Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg shows us that (as a friend of mine likes to say) it's a big 'ole world out there.