Banjoist Jake Schepps, violin master Ryan Drickey, guitarist Greg Schochet (who also plays mandolin), and string bassist Eric Thorin have combined their estimable talents on one of the ten best recordings of 2007. This is a complete and utter delight. From the airy banjo/violin interplay that informs the opening Astor Piazzolla-penned "Todo Buenos Aires" it is apparent that this is a string band meets jazz session that runs on high octane talent.
Schepps composed the majority of the tunes, with Schochet and Thorin contributing one song each. Guest mandolinist and session producer Matt Flinner is represented by a song, as well. Updating the string band tradition, this superb collection straddles a fence between jazz and bluegrass, both of which are musical schools which require uncommon command of one’s instrument. On this all-instrumental collection, it is glaringly apparent that these are musicians of such talent.
On Flinner’s "The Seagull," Schepps’ playing is fluid. He treats the banjo in a less percussive manner than most. Mandolin offers gorgeous counterpoint, with violin painting in the empty spaces. "Origami" is an Eastern-flavored piece that allows the principals to stretch on the atmospherically languid and lush tune. The three sections of "In The American West," based on the similarly titled photographs of Richard Avedon, opens with the lovely "Somerset," and segues into "Chimayo," a bit of a trail song that benefits from the mandolin and banjo work. The final section, "Rocky Ford" suggests wide open spaces and perhaps some of that ford to be traversed. The whole of the pieces is stunning.
Schochet’s "Bluegrass Schlepp" has more than a taste of Flatt and Scruggs in it, which is to say it is as much fun as it is instrumentally jaw-dropping. The fiddle here (no longer a violin) is particularly exquisite and clever. Schepp’s follow up, "The Zipper" is fluid and virtuosic. Schepp is in a category of his own. There are tidbits of Bela Fleck in his approach, perhaps, but Schepps is completely his own man. Following Thorin’s sweet "Lodi," Schepps opens it up for the speed picking of his "The Rise." The interplay between the stringed instruments is thrilling. On the closing "Cute-Nik," banjo offers a metronmic pulse over which violin plays a slightly more melodic figure. Simply astounding.