Multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall was one of the key players of early "spacegrass" scene, joining the David Grisman Quintet on its second album, and forging a creative partnership with Grisman's violinist Darol Anger, playing together consistently for over three decades. Marshall has become identified with the "new acoustic" style, mixing American acoustic styles with classical and world music, and most notably has become a champion of Brazilian choro music, a vibrant style similar to Dixieland jazz. Here's a quick look at his work.
Montreux "Sign Language" (Windham Hill, 1987)
Montreux "Let Them Say" (Windham Hill, 1989)
Montreux "Montreux: A Windham Hill Retrospective" (Windham Hill, 1993)
Mike Marshall "Brasil (Duets)" (Earthbeat, 1996)
Following a trip to Brazil in 1995, Newgrass mandolin whiz Mike Marshall decided to tackle an entire album of Brazilian choro music, the zippy, propulsive instrumental style pioneered in the late 1800s, alongside it's better-known musical cousin, the samba. On this album Marshall performs some of the best known songs in the genre, as well as several that are further off the beaten track, playing in tandem with the likes of jazzgrass picker Bela Fleck and Edgar Mayer, West Coast jazz maven Andy Narell, and expatriate Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto. Marshall has a real feel for this material: it enlivens his own playing, while he brings a lightness and playful air to this sometimes-rigid genre. This is a disc definitely worth looking for, particularly if you are already a choro fan, or a newgrasser interested in hearing someone stretching into new, dynamic territory.
Mike Marshall & Chris Thile "Into The Cauldron" (Sugar Hill, 2003)
Newgrass forefather Mike Marshall teams up with fusion-grass idol, Nickle Creek's Chris Thile, in a slam-bang set of flashy mandolin duets. For both artists, it's a nice return to a simpler approach, shorn of glitzy arrangements or iffy pop production... Sure, many of these songs go off on excessive, classical- and jazz-inspired tangents, but at least you get the feel that these guys are connecting as actual musicians, not just as play actors in some prepackaged studio outing, and really playing with the form. Not really my cup of tea, but for new acoustic fans, this is a record well worth checking out.
Mike Marshall & Chris Thile "Live Duets" (Sugar Hill, 2006)
In many ways, this album is a homecoming... In the early 1980s, mandolinist/multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall was one of the many bluegrass-jazz fusioneers who walked directly in the footsteps of dawgmeister David Grisman, taking American acoustic music to new heights and sometimes to sonambulent sidetracks. Many of the pickers in that class of the newgrass camp carved out a comfortable niche as folk-scene favorites and as hotshot hired hands, over in Nashville. When folks started to wonder who would follow in their footsteps, one of the first young'uns to emerge in the '90s was picker Chris Thile, whose teenage debut was a thing of wonder. Thile, of course, went on to join the band Nickel Creek, which took its cues from Alison Krauss & Union Station and likewise cracked into the charts in the adult pop market. Truegrass purists may take issue with Nickel Creek's brand of soft-pop fusion, but it's hard to fault Thile's strengths as a musician, especially when he strips things down, as on this set of lively acoustic duets. There are jazzy, improvisational flights that may turn some of y'all off, but the mutual excitement and synergy that Marshall and Thile share comes through loud and clear. If you're already on the newgrass bandwagon, you'll probably want to check this one out.
Mike Marshall & Darol Anger "Woodshop" (Adventure Music, 2007)
Sprightly "newgrass" instrumentals in the classic mode, these collaborations between violinist Darol Anger and mando/multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall cap a decades-long partnership, and show the fluidity and playfulness of their shared musical strengths. The tunes bear the emblematic mix of bluegrass, classical and jazz elements that the style is based on... The album kicks off with "Peter Pan," which gave me the willies because its the theme song to a local public radio talkshow that I hear all the time (Mike Marshall wrote it... who knew??) Another highlight is the craftily named "Who Had Whom," which is a sideways quote of the Beatles' "Michelle..." All in all, a pretty solid album by these two old pros -- focussed and not too goopy, a treat for fans while accessible to Americana and jazz buffs alike.
Mike Marshall, Darol Anger & Vasen "Mike Marshall & Darol Anger With Vasen" (Adventure Music, 2007)
Two newgrass elders, violinist Darol Anger and mando/multi-instrumentalist Mike Marshall, tune in and turn on with the group Vasen, one of the most dynamic bands in the modern Swedish acoustic music scene. Various 'grassers have flirted with Celtic and other European forms, so Anger and Marshall already have an affinity for the style... The debt apparently runs both ways, as the Vasen trio leaps in full throttle along with the Northern California superpickers... It's a very energetic, hurly-burly set, dominated by note-heavy improvisational flights. The repertoire is split pretty evenly between originals and traditional material brought to the table by Marshall, and originals and traditional material from Vasen's guitarist, Roger Tallroth, and violinist Mikael Marin. Acoustic music fans who like their improvs fast and furious will get a kick out of this one, and folks who are new to the Swedish sound will probably be inspired to check out other, older Vasen albums as well.
Mike Marshall "Mike Marshall's Big Trio" (Adventure Music, 2009)
(Produced by Mike Marshall)
A veteran of the early '80s "spacegrass" scene, mandolinist Mike Marshall has pursued an eclectic set of interests, from bluegrass, classical and jazz, to various stripes of world music, particularly Brazilian choro. Here, along with two younger players -- cellist Alex Hargreaves and bassist Paul Kowert -- he weaves these elements together in a strong, supple album that mostly sounds like classic spacegrass-jazz, but also has a distinctive feel, particularly on more forceful, exploratory tracks such as "Three Dragons," which reminds me of John McLaughlin's work with the Indian band, Shakti. Marshall is not content to rest on his laurels, and definitely seems to have been pushing himself on each of his last few records... This is one of the most focussed and direct, a fine extension of the music that gave him start. Fans'll be psyched.
Mike Marshall & Caterina Lichtenberg "Caterina Lichtenberg And Mike Marshall" (Adventure Music, 2010)
(Produced by Mike Marshall & Dave Luke)
A lively classical-oriented collaboration with newgrass superpicker Mike Marshall and Bulgarian mandolinist Caterina Lichtenberg, who has worked with the Duetto Giocondo and the Dresden Symphony Orchestra. The two are in perfect synch, performing with obvious delight on an ambitious set which includes classical composers such as Bach and Leclair, as well as a suite by Jose Antonio Zambrano, a couple of lively choro tunes by Brazil's Jacob Do Bandolim and a pair of Marshall's own compositions.
Mike Marshall "An Adventure: 1999-2009" (Adventure Music, 2010)
A nice best-of overview of newgrass mandolin whiz Mike Marshall's work during his first ten years running his own indie label, Adventure Music, which specializes in newgrass and other jazz styles. This gathers selections from nine albums of Marshall's work, including with bands such as Psychograss, Big Trio and Vasen, as well as numerous collaborations with violinist Darol Anger. There are a bunch of Brazilian-themed performances, with artists such as Jovino Santos Neto and Hermeto Pascoal, and several lovely explorations of the wild acoustic style called choro which has become a wellspring of Marshall's recent musical interests. This is a very strong album: I have to be honest and admit that sometimes the newgrass scene can get a little too goopy and saccharine for me, but this retrospective collection held my interest from start to finish and paints a well-rounded picture of Marshall's growth as an artist. Nice stuff.
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