Mandolin, meet bass
Reviewed May 2010
By Gunnar Biggs/Bill Bradbury
To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.
At its best, the new collaboration between North County's Gunnar Biggs (acoustic bass) and Bill Bradbury (mandolin) happily recalls the Appalachian excursions of Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor of a decade ago. And even when the album runs a bit out of steam, it still reminds of those albums: Even Ma, Meyer and O'Connor aren't perfect, and their albums hit slow spots as well.
The comparison is perhaps most apt on the opening track, "B'veld Bounce," a tribute from Bradbury (who teaches music at Cal State San Marcos and Palomar College) to his hometown of Barneveld, N.Y. It sets a lovely tone for the rest of the album, with its melding of jazz, Celtic, folk and classical forms. A few tracks later, Biggs turns in a tribute to his own birthplace with "Zanesville Breakdown" which adds an Asian influence to the above mix.
What makes both those audaciously bold attempts to cross-pollinate about six ways at once, as well as the quieter pieces without as obvious a melodic hook, all work is the virtuosity the two men bring to their instruments.
Biggs we expect that from: The man played behind Buddy Rich in his youth, the legendary jazz drummer with a notoriously short fuse. Bradbury, however, has only (according to the liner notes) been playing mandolin a few years. His ease at switching from picking to strumming, and his command of both traditional folk forms and jazz phrasing and improvisation is pretty darn impressive.
The other result of the high level of playing is that this unusual pairing of standup bass and mandolin never seems aurally thin. They credit a looping machine on one track, but otherwise it's just the two of them. Whether it's Biggs providing a low foundation for Bradbury's picking, or Bradbury harmonizing atop Biggs' lead bass, they manage to flesh out each other's playing in a way that gives the recording a fullness of sound some quartets can't manage.
There's enough fun stuff here, and the interplay between the two men leads to so many unexpected musical joys and discoveries, that we should hope there's another recording by these two in the future.
Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif., and was a contributor to the "Grove Press Guide to Blues on CD" (1993) and "The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Blues" (2005).