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(Patuxent Records 176 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/11/2009)
Music has always had its share of prodigies, from Mozart up to the current day. And certain musical genres seem to be especially attractive for gifted young musicians -- mainly those that require a high degree of musical technical ability. So classical music and jazz have traditionally seen their share of prodigies. And so has bluegrass and its more contemporary offshoot New Acoustic Music. Some of the field's better known names have had quite an early start: Ricky Skaggs, Béla Fleck, Alison Krauss, and Chris Thile to name a few. This week we have an impressive new recording by someone who is not that far out of his teens, and it's his second solo recording as a leader. Jordan Tice's new CD is called Long Story.
Jordan Tice, who was twenty when he made this CD, grew up on bluegrass Both his parents are bluegrass musicians, and young Jordan spent a lot of time with his parents on tours from one bluegrass festival to another. Tice's instrument is the guitar, and it's not surprising that he's a hot picker. While he started out on electric guitar at age 12, his instrument of choice is acoustic. But this new all-instrumental CD, like his previous one, No Place Better, is less about hot picking and more about interesting compositions. Tice is currently a senior music composition major at Towson State University in Maryland, so the stylistic elements that go into his pieces are wide-ranging in the best New Acoustic tradition, with jazz, some hints of classical and maybe bits of world music influence. Each piece is interesting and has a degree of musical complexity, but almost all are pleasingly melodic.
Tice is joined by some other notable young figures on the New Acoustic scene, Casey Driessen on fiddle from Tim O'Brien's Band; Noam Pikelny on banjo -- he was with Leftover Salmon and is currently playing with Chris Thile's band the Punch Brothers; Andy Hall on Dobro, from the Infamous Stringdusters, and one of the musicians who goes back to the emergence of the New Acoustic scene in the 1980s, Mark Schatz on bass. Making guest appearances are mandolinist Mark MacGlashon, and Jordan's mother Sue Tice on fiddle.
As mentioned, this CD emphasizes Jordan Tice' compositions rather than instrumental virtuosity, and while Tice can pick with the best, most of the time the instrumental solo spotlight falls on his guests. Banjo man Pikelny is particularly impressive, but all in the group are given their due.
Opening is a piece called Locust Point, which is typical of Tice's composing -- interesting and multifaceted, with the harmonic complexity of a jazz tune. The gathered musicians show their high level of playing and tastefulness. <<>>
The tune Salad Days sounds like its title would suggest, with hints of reverie in its mood. This piece features Tice's guitar perhaps a bit more than some of the others, and he uses the opportunity to show his generally understated but first-rate playing. <<>>
Song For Leslie is another fairly subtle tune that shows Tice's wide range of influences. It hints at both Celtic and a country waltz, and features Tice's mother Sue Tice on the fiddle. <<>>
More toward conventional bluegrass is a composition called Sofia, which the band handles with their typical aplomb. <<>>
Taking a more contemplative mood, at least at its outset is a piece called Ode to a Vending Machine. <<>> Though it picks up a little steam later on. <<>>
Tice's composition Chincoteague extends beyond bluegrass for its general outlook. This is a piece that could work in a number of styles. One could also imagine this either as the music for a some sad lyrics, or perhaps as a theme in a movie soundtrack. It's nicely written and performed. <<>>
The most musically elaborate piece on the CD is called The Colony. It goes through a lot of interest phases with musical themes seeming to overlap and intertwine. It's several light years from traditional bluegrass. <<>>
That is followed by probably the CD's most contemplative piece, appropriately entitled 3 AM. Again, it's not the sort of thing one expects from a bluegrass band, but it's very nicely done. <<>>
Guitarist Jordan Tice's new second CD -- third if you count a trio recording he was part of -- made at age 20, is an impressive release by an acoustic musician who carries on the combination of virtuosity and musical exploration that marked the golden days of the New Acoustic scene back in the 1980s, when a previous generation of prodigies were making themselves known. And like a previous such phenom, Béla Fleck, Tice is a first-class composer, creating music that could translate beyond the bluegrass instrumentation. While the playing is outstanding by all involved, this is as much a composer's record as it is a guitarist's. It succeeds on both accounts.
Sonically, the acoustic instruments are well-recorded and have a warm sound. But the unfortunate and pervasive CD loudness wars apparent led to the volume compression that sucked a lot of the dynamics out of the recording.
With Jordan Tice still in school, majoring in composition, Long Story could make for a very impressive senior project. I would definitely give him and his colleagues an "A." And it's also great to see such bright young talent continuing to emerge on the bluegrass and New Acoustic music scene.
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