Donate to the Grapevine

Express your thanks by leaving the pirate a tip!

January 29, 2008

Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Sam Bush, Butch Robins, Vassar Clements, David Holland, Jethro Burns

Year: 1975
Label: Flying Fish

I have often thought that jazz and bluegrass have a lot in common (this goes along with my secret theory that The Grateful Dead was Rock & Roll's unconscious answer to Ornette Coleman). Both traditions rely on dynamic group interaction, where the musicians take turns soloing and supporting each other. Improvisation is a key element, there is a premium on tone, and communication is paramount. There's no such thing as going it alone.

The musicians on this record are:
* Norman Blake - Guitar, Mandocello, Vocals
* Vassar Clements - Violin
* Jethro Burns - Guitar, Mandolin
* Butch Robins - Banjo
* Tut Taylor - Dobro, Mandolin
* Sam Bush - Mandola, Mandolin
* David Holland - Bass
And let me tell you, they all shine. It would be fair to call this a supergroup, though they were never really all a band. But they are certainly virtuosi. Not only are they all masters of their instruments, able to play anything they set their minds to, but they have enough confidence and taste to know what and when not to play. As a result, the tunes on this album are sometimes bursting into a multitude of exciting different directions, sometimes enticingly spare and gripping.

This record is a jam session. Which is to say, it is a dialogue made possible by the shared language of tradition, but born out of a need to express spontaneously, to jointly create an entity that exists only in the present moment. The musicians who made this album were not a band, though some had played together before. They were mostly seasoned studio musicians, adept at supporting people they had just met.

So it makes sense then, that though some of these players met the second time to record this album, they all sound so comfortable, you'd think they'd been playing together for years. That being said, they stretch well-beyond their comfort zones, forging a new path between two genres of music that had rarely met. And though there are some jaw dropping passages of dazzling virtuosity, the whole album feels relaxed. It feels like these musicians, from different generations, different traditions, and different countries, have all gathered around to have a barbecue and take turns telling their lives. Yeah, kinda like that. But better.

And don't just take my word for it; read the AMG review.
Or, better yet...

hear it for yourself.

mr (vinyl) | mp3 vbr 192+kbps | no cover | 56mb

and here are the liner notes, which tell how this album came to be, and conveys the awe of discovering these musicians in the '70s:

saturday afternoon in nashville

me and norman and all the rest of the gathered together in hound's ear studio and played music. we are here because of our shared desire to record together. spontaneous and free!

i started playing guitar when i was eleven, i guess, and took lessons from rev. gary davis when i was sixteen. my interest in acoustic music developed something like this: john hurt gary davis jerry jeff walker david bromberg doc watson bluegrass! bill monroe flatt & scruggs mandolin 5-string banjo and the violin! charlie poole arthur leizime brusoe kenny bakker bromberg's 1st record with hartford's band! these guys are fantastic! find john hartford's aero plain record produced by bromberg with norman blake, vassar clements & tut taylor. see john fartford on P.B.S. t.v. with arthur fiedler and norman blake & vassar clements. they play symphony hall rag! i am thinking this approaches jazz on acoustic instruments. vassar is exciting! go to philly folk festival. see & hear john & norman blake. they play richland avenue (front porch-wood pile) rag and talk about how they stacked wood that somebody left on norman's driveway and about how they sat down to pick afterwards on norman's front porch. i have never seen or heard anyone play the guitar with the confidence and ease of norman blake. norman says he's got a record out on rounder, i get it along with tut's and vassar's. john hartford's new record comes out with old joe clark on it, which he & norman played at the philly folk festival. i keep remembering seeing those 2 musicians on stage at philly playing beautiful music with all the ease and confidence i've ever seen in one place in my whole life. there is a jazz bassist from london on john's new record. david holland.

david's bass playing is warm & soft & mellow. his sense of timing is perfect. uncanny. the way he hears his music is new to me and beautiful. subtle & smooth. like nature. i am playing the fiddle now. have a recurring fantasy about wanting to hear david holland and vassar clements play together. improvise & communicate like staphane grappelli and django reinhardt. am anxious to see everyone in concert together and wait. get tired of waiting and decide to produce my own concert with my favorite musicians: result: i present john hartford, norman blake, david bromberg, vassar clements, tut taylor, sam bush and david holland at the academy of music in April '74. success! right before the concert a radio dj gives me a promo record the radio station got: a david holland record called conference of the birds, with two saxophone players and a fantastic percussionist named barry altschul. this is avant garde jazz, i read. vassar had just told me he listened to jazz horns and stuff like that. miles davis. i begin to listen to jazz along with this esoteric bluegrass of john & vassar. experience django & stephane.

… after concert we talk about phonograph records and record companies some. hey, let's do a record in nashville with everybody. "and jethro burns" says sam. o.k. all right let's do it. i fly to nashville to see claude hill and we do it. i finally get to hear vassar clements and david holland play together and now so do you.

Hank Deane
Sunday 30 March 1975


the doc said...

this is a nice lp. I had it for many many years until I sold off the vinyl. Glad to get it again. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

I lost my vinyl version to divorce and have hunted for it for 8 years. I ordered the CD three times, but it was never in print. Missed it by a week on eBay. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

lekarm said...

wish I Could Hear this. Reup Please. After all these rhythms are the magic of life. Thanks.