Fire Note Says: Andy Statman pays tribute to the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, with this instrumental album rooted in the mastery of the mandolin.
Album Review: Andy Statman’s had a long and celebrated career (he’s 79) has deep roots in two classic musical traditions. As a clarinetist, Statman is known as a world-class instrumentalist in the ethnic musical genre klezmer, which is traditional European Jewish instrumental music, of which the clarinet often plays the role that a lead guitarist plays in a rock band. As if that weren’t enough to hang his yarmulke on, Statman is also a world class mandolin player favoring American folk and bluegrass music, even taking lessons for the early rock star of the mandolin, David Grisman as a young man. Statman went on to make two albums with Grisman, “Mandolin Abstractions” in ’83 and “Songs of Our Fathers” in ’95, as well as serving as a sideman for singer/songwriter David Bromberg. In 2011, Statman collaborated on compilation album with the likes of Bela Fleck and Ricky Skaggs, titled “Old Brooklyn,” and in 2012 the National Endowment of the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts.
On his latest album, Monroe Bus, Statman seeks to pay tribute to the musical Bill Monroe, often credited as the father of bluegrass music, the name drawn from his band, The Blue Grass Boys. At times, like on the album’s title track and raucous instrumentals like “Raw Ride” and “Statman Romp,” where it’s fast pickin’ mandolin mixed with banjo and fiddle, and a race to the finish. Elsewhere, Statman is more reflective, as on “Reminiscence” and “Lakewood Waltz,” where its quieter, and at times recalls hymns and early folk gospel songs in the melodies. What you probably don’t expect, is Statman’s diversions into jazz and a couple flirtations with a more avant garde approach, which you hear on “Ice Cream on the Room” and “Brooklyn Hop.” But Statman never travels too far from that familiar energy of bluegrass in the Monroe tradition, with nods to some of the new grass artists like Sam Bush and Chris Thile, who’s taken the mandolin mainstream in bands like Nickel Creek, the Punch Brothers, and no doubt is best known for replacing Garrison Keillor on what is now called “Live From Here,” heard on Saturday nights on NPR.
For Monroe Bus, Statman turned to Michael Cleveland on fiddle, Jim Whitney on upright double bass, Larry Eagle on drums, Glenn Pascha on pump organ, piano and Hammond organ, with Michael Daves adding acoustic guitar on three tracks, to give his material the full bluegrass band treatment.
Statman’s approach will be appealing to anyone who loves fast picking string music, whether you favor guitar or other instruments, he leaves little doubt that he can play fast & furious solo runs, while never losing the deeply musical sense of the mandolin itself. But as a raw musical player, Statman’s mastery of the mandolin is a treat to the ears.
Key Tracks: “Monroe Bus” / “Ain’t No Place for a Girl Like You” / “Statman Romp”
Artists With Similar Fire: David Grisman / Bela Fleck / Chris Thile
Andy Statman Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb