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Chris Thile & Mike Marshall
Live Duets

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Sugar Hill Records SUG-CD-4010 


  When Chris Thile and Mike Marshall play music together they share far more than both playing mandolins. Each brings a uniquely virtuosic musical vision to the table. The results can be heard on their latest CD, Live Duets.

If you're expecting catchy pop ditties or Celtic standards Live Duets will surprise you. Instead Thile and Marshall concentrate on more contemplative and esoteric material including Bulgarian folk tunes, classical partitas, and their own original compositions. Their tunes display a modernistic flair not unlike works by classical composers such as John Adams or Charles Ives; full of tempered jazz and folk inflections. Thile's composition "Hualalai" is a good example. It begins with a stately ascending melody line that evolves into an almost atonal counterpoint before looping back into a more structured finale. Another rather special aspect of much of Thile and Marshall's playing is the lack of the obvious soloist and accompanist roles. Instead they both often play intertwining lead lines, creating music that requires "listening with both ears" to catch all of its subtleties.

Recorded directly to a 24-bit Genex GX9000 recorder by way of a pair of DPA modified B&K 4011 microphones and Forsell JMP-6 preamps, the sound on Live Duets ranks among the best live concert recordings I've heard. Mike Marshall's 1924 Gibson F-5 and Chris Thile's 1999 Dudenbostel F-5 sound just as I remember when I've heard them played live a few feet in front of me. Recording engineer Fred Forsell accomplished the difficult task of placing the microphones so they are near enough to capture every nuance of the pair's playing while not being overbearingly close. His recording also retains the ambience of the concert hall itself and the reality of the actual musical event. Unlike Thile and Marshall's studio project, Into the Cauldron, where artificial ambience marred the overall sound, here the recording adds to the music's power and impact.

Like Chris Thile and Mike Marshall's recent past efforts Live Duets isn't the kind of CD you listen to casually. It requires more concentration from the listener than most contemporary acoustic recordings. But if you give Live Duets the time and space it deserves you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of what great music making is all about.




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