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Noam Pikelny
In the Maze

Review By Steven Stone
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Noam Pikelny In the Maze

CD Number: Compass Records 7 4386 2 


  Given his age, it's hard to think of a 23-year-old as a veteran performer, but Noam Pikelyny has covered enough musical ground during his career to qualify. His first major gig forced him into the position of trying to fill Leftover Salmon's founding member Mark Van's shoes after his untimely demise. Recent gigs have included solos shows as well as touring with John Cowan's latest group.

On In The Maze Pikelny heads up a high-octane group of pickers including Matt Flinner on mandolin, David Grier on guitar, Todd Phillips on bass, and Gabe Witcher on fiddle. Produced by Flinner and Phillips, In The Maze features the kind of bluegrass-tinged acoustic jazz pioneered by David Grisman and Mike Marshall. The difference here is the music stays closer to its roots without traveling into Latin or classical material. The first cut "Speed Bump" begins as a classic banjo number with direct roots in tunes like Flatt and Scruggs' "Pike Country Breakdown." Only after David Grier's guitar pyrotechnics does Pikelny begin to take the tune into more uncharted waters. The title cut has a slightly bittersweet Celtic flavor that continues into the next cut "Flight of the Green Chair." Pikelny's playing throughout the album displays the mature restraint of a musician who goes for feeling rather than flash.

Sonically In The Maze comes through with nary a false move. The sound is warm, yet well-defined, with a sonic perspective that puts the instruments far enough away not to crowd the listener without adding too much distance or artificial space. Pikelyny's banjo sounds just right, not too metallic or too mellow. When I hear critics and audiophiles complain about how new releases no longer sound natural, I know they haven't been listening to recordings like this one.

During the last couple of years Compass Records has released a steady series of outstanding acoustic recordings that remind me of the best work from Windham Hill. Sure, the Compass releases have more backbone, drive, and connection to their roots than Windham Hill's ethereal offerings, but Compass shares Windham Hill's dedication to a particular acoustic music aesthetic. In The Maze typifies the Compass Records attitude of pushing the limits while still having a strong connection with traditional music. You want good new music? You get it here.




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