"Uncommon Ritual" is one of my 'desert-island' discs. I am reluctant to throw the genre word 'fusion' at this lofty achievement as it's level of sophistication is very high (soon after it's release the trio performed the works at New York's Alice Tully Hall..indeed concert halls don't get loftier than that). Edgar Meyer, who has been the regular bassist of Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society and a musician with equal experience in classical and bluegrass, teamed up with the banjoist and prolific musician Béla Fleck and the great mandolin player Mike Marshall. Yet despite its inclusion of Bach and Pablo de Sarasate's ''Zigeunerweisen,'' ''Uncommon Ritual'' is not a classical album. But neither does it belong to bluegrass, traditional Irish music, jazz or any of the other traditions it hints at.
Meyer, Fléck and Marshall play a variety of acoustic string instruments and bring to this session backgrounds in quite a variety of musical genres. A jazz review said that Uncommon Ritual is "Reminiscent of the crossover classical music on Claude Bolling's albums in the '70s or the modern strings of Kronos Quartet, "Uncommon Ritual" has wider appeal". Indeed I'd say remarkably so, considering the praise it has received over the years and more personally for me-the amount of friends who I managed to turn on to this-dare I say-masterpiece of a recording (from start to finish). Not quite classical, or exactly jazz or bluegrass, their original music succeeds by borrowing effortlessly from these and other genres. This album comes a year after Mr. Meyer's great success with ''Appalachia Waltz,'' also recorded for Sony Classical (and with the efforts of no less than Yo Yo Ma), another (ugh the term) 'crossover' album with a rural American theme. It's very good but Uncommon Ritual for me is just unsurpassed.
Having performed together since the early 1980s, Meyer and Fléck tightened the teamwork on this release. As a solo classical bassist, Mr. Meyer can be heard on a concerto album with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff featuring Bottesini’s "Gran Duo" with Joshua Bell, Meyer’s own "Double Concerto for Bass and Cello" with Yo-Yo Ma, Bottesini’s "Bass Concerto No. 2", and Meyer’s own "Concerto in D for Bass". He has also recorded an album featuring three of Bach’s Unaccompanied Suites for Cello. In 2006, he released a self-titled solo recording on which he wrote and recorded all of the music, incorporating piano, guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo, gamba, and double bass. In 2007, recognizing his wide-ranging recording achievements, Sony/BMG released a compilation of The Best of Edgar Meyer. In 2011 Mr. Meyer joined cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolinist Chris Thile, and fiddler Stuart Duncan for the Sony Masterworks recording "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" which was awarded the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. Béla Fleck, a Grammy-winning banjo master and composer, has led his own groups (including Béla Fleck and the Flecktones). Mandolin virtuoso Mike Marshall collaborated with Dave Grisman from 1979-1984, and with versatile string artists from Grappelli to the Kronos Quartet.
Throughout the 17 captivating tunes, musical cues come from around the globe (and from Bach to blues), featuring chipper, colorfully-layered trio renderings such as "Seesaw" and "Chromium Picolinate", to Meyer's solo performance on the third movement from "Amalgamations for Solo Bass," to a decisively classical Marshall-Meyer duet, Pablo de Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen," which, at eight-and-a-half minutes, serves as album centerpiece. Mr. Meyer said that, ''The Big Cheese'', is a gloss on ''the intricacies of the male/female dynamic.'' Like much of the music, it fuses two song ideas into one. The male half had a loping, droopy, plucked reggae bass line, with hectoring mandolin accompaniment, resulting in a feeling both anxious and flowing. The female sections incorporate a William Byrd fantasia-elegant, lively and efficient.
The first track, "Uncommon Ritual" is imo one of the most exciting openings (wonderfully accelerando!!) I know of or have ever heard. The first three tracks for me is just a trio of delight; I love the whole album but there's just something about the first 14 minutes of music. Like links on an unbreakable chain. "Sliding Down" is especially beautiful, and even more poignant. Too many memories there almost!! From playful to serious, all of the works focus on individual artistry and collective wit and polish, with a give-and-take that makes this string trio one of the most interesting in the world.
01) Uncommon Ritual
03) Sliding Down
04) Chromium Picolinate
06) Chance Meeting
09) Old Tyme
10) Contrapunctus Xiii from "The Art of the Fugue"
11) Third Movement from "Amalgamations for Solo Bass"
12) By the River
13) Big Country
14) Barnyard Disturbance
15) In the Garden
16) Child's Play
17) Big Cheese