By David Royko
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Rounder Records was the dominant stable for progressive instrumental bluegrass, or Newgrass, or New Acoustic Music, or whatever other appellation you might choose. Sugar Hill, Flying Fish and a handful of others added greatly to the mix, but Rounder was the one that put out the most by the best. Rounder’s moved on since then, still an “indi” label, but huge, more diverse in their scope, and less involved with the kinds of projects that started or fostered the careers of players like Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Andy Statman, Tony Trischka, David Grisman, Mark O’Connor, and Tony Rice, among many others, as leaders as well as featured sidemen.
Though there are fewer such releases coming out in general as there were in the 1980s--a sort of Golden Age--the gap is being filled nicely by a variety of labels, Patuxent Music being one of the newest, nurturing some of the youngest and most creative players just entering the big leagues. The recent, self-titled Patuxent disc by Corbett, Chrisman and Tice (BU, 11/08) was one of the finest progressive instrumental string records of last year, and this, by that trio’s guitarist Jordan Tice, is another winner.
The recording band Tice assembled for Long Story represents the hot new string mafia, young virtuosi who have undoubtedly memorized many of those early Rounder, Flying Fish and Sugar Hill albums (along with the tiny but mighty MCA Master Series that birthed Strength In Numbers and Edgar Meyer albums, among others), and have taken the ball from there. Tice, violinist Casey Driessen (Sparrow Quartet, Tim O’Brien Band), dobroist Andy Hall (Infamous Stringdusters), and banjoist Noam Pikelny (Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers) are anchored by the bass playing of one of the progressive Golden Age guys, Mark Schatz.
What was true back then is even more so today--hot licks ain’t enough. The best albums are driven by strong compositions, and Tice has chops in that regard to go along with his manual dexterity. When the springboard is strong material, improvisations tend to be better, and Long Story delivers on both counts. The tunes are engaging and melodic, and the pickers do their jobs, digging inspired solos out of the strong thematic foundations that only sound better with repetition. A couple numbers are also on the Corbett/Chrisman/Tice CD, giving us new takes with different soloists and arrangements. Also telling is that one of the best pieces on the disc is a slow number, “3 AM,” harkening back to Jerry Douglas’s classic “Grant’s Corner,” in that the embellishments are subtle, never obscuring a truly gorgeous melody.
Jordan Tice is one of the new guys on the New Acoustic block, and the neighborhood looks, and sounds, great.
(Patuxent Music, PO Box 572, Rockville, MD 20848; www.pxrec.com) DR