By David Royko
Tony Trischka/Beppe Gambetta
Alone & Together
Brambus 199124-2 (1991)
Between 1973 and 1982, banjoist Tony Trischka produced a series of distinguished albums for Rounder, after which he concentrated his recording activity on the group Skyline. While that band was impressive in concert, the records (on Flying Fish) seemed to be less than the sum of their parts. Worse, we had no solo Trischka "new grass" albums until 1990's Big Dogs With Tony Trischka Live at the Birchmere (Strictly Country), followed by this 1991 production. While the Big Dogs CD is an outstanding recording of a great group in full flight, this CD provides us with the most focused picture of Trischka’s originality that we have had since 1982’s A Robot Plane Flies Over Arkansas album (Rounder 0171).
This beautifully recorded project is primarily a collection of instrumental solo and duet performances by Trischka and Italian virtuoso guitarist Beppe Gambetta, recorded live in various venues around North America. Original compositions by the two players account for approximately half of the performances while an interesting assortment of traditional, classical, and bluegrass pieces arranged by the pair complete the program. Although these covers are often dazzling and provide ample space for creative soloing, the original compositions are what make this CD indispensable. The titles alone give come idea of the unusual terrain explored by the duo: "Solar Energy," "Lake Flora," "Perriopolis," "West Bank of the Eno," to name a few.
Gambetta’s compositions are enjoyable, with "Solar Energy" the strongest. Both Trischka and the guitarist exploit the dark, brooding quality of this number in their intricate solos. His other compositions are uniformly well constructed and certainly "prettier," though somewhat less distinctive, than those of Trischka’s, whose quirkiness remains one of his most appealing characteristics. "West Bank of the Eno" is an enchanting masterpiece of Trischka-style eccentricity, and should be a genuine eye opener for fans of Bela Fleck’s who believe that Bela sprang forth from a vacuum. "Improviso Libro," a solo banjo free improvisation allows Trischka to display both his gigantic technique and restless imagination. Would it be financial suicide for a record company to allow him an entire album of solo compositions and improvisations?
I suspect that this recording will remain a unique achievement in the output of both men. An essential release.
--- David Royko (Chicago, IL) ---