Thoughts, Bach Trios by Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer & Yo-Yo Ma

Watch: Bach Trio Sonata No. 6 in G Major, BWV 530: I. Vivace

I’ve been paying attention to a small group of musicians that are doing something that I haven’t heard anywhere else. They’re taking the virtuosity of classical music, mixing it with the fervor of bluegrass and humbling it with the rustic charm of folk music to create an incredible fusion that I just can’t get enough of. While the group changes slightly with each iteration, the group swirls around the center that is the lyrical bassist, Edgar Meyer.

His early work showed him dabbling in playing both as a concert bassist and bass fiddle for bluegrass groups. While he experimented with a host of different collaborators, it would be the relationships he built with Chris Thile and Yo-Yo Ma in the 1990’s that he would later bring together to create the foundation of a truly innovative coalition.

All three first appeared together on “Improvisation on Dona Nobis Pacem (Give Us Peace)”, “The Wassail Song / All Through the Night” and “Touch the Hand of Love” on Yo-Yo Ma’s 2008 album, Songs of Joy and Peace. The combination worked so well, they brought on violinist Stuart Duncan to write and record an entire album together in 2011.

The result, an album titled The Goat Rodeo Sessions is a masterpiece of modern Americana music, where the musicians created music from scratch, pulling from elements from each of their backgrounds and expertise to create a gorgeous and rich expression of earnestness and yearning. I was beyond thrilled when I saw the trio would return to record another album.

At first I was disappointed that Stuart Duncan would not be returning, but after a couple listens I understood why. The tone of Bach Trios is quite different from The Goat Rodeo Sessions, and I really like having both. It makes sense having more voices in the Goat Rodeo quartet, where bright swells and uplifting crescendos made the music magical, where the mechanical and precise nature of Bach’s work is better served by a smaller ensemble, where each individual’s performer has more room to explore and interpret Bach’s compositions.

The way I listen to Bach Trios and most classical music is much different from how I digest modern genres. While I am partial to BWV 645 & 548, but I don’t seek any track out individually when I put this album on. I usually either start at the top or somewhere in the middle depending on how much time I have and absorb it as a whole. That is probably due to a combination of my relatively shallow understanding of classical music compared to other genres and the fact that the album has very little post-production–it’s like listening to an intimate concert.

That might be what I like most about this album, aside from the masterful performances and powerful chemistry between the players, the intimacy of the recording. I can hear Chris Thile’s pick hit the mandolin strings and the bows make contact with the cello and double bass. You can almost hear the rosin scatter when they make a hearty thrust and those idiosyncrasies don’t distract from the music, but instead magnify and elevate the experience. I can only hope that the trio feels the same way about their work as I do and they continue to make music together in the future.

Micah Roehlkepartain