Mike Marshall’s latest project, Big Trio, embodies a multi-generational melding of kindred spirits, with Marshall playing the role of elder statesman; he was already established as one of the world’s finest mandolinists before his musical mates in the trio – violinist Alex Hargreaves and bassist Paul Kowert – were even born.
You can’t fault Marshall, though, for wanting to play with these young guns. What Hargreaves and Kowert lack in years, they certainly make up for in chops. Hargreaves, at the age of 16, has been playing violin for over a decade; has studied under Darol Anger, David Grisman, and Mark O’Connor, among others; and is the youngest ever Grand Champion at the National Oldtime Fiddler’s Contest. Kowert, just a whisper this side of the legal drinking age, is already raising the bar to virtually unreachable heights for young bassists. A graduate of Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, Kowert has recently taken over bass playing duties for The Punch Brothers, Chris Thile’s chambergrass group.
Take heed, though – this is no simple union of two young apprentices learning under one seasoned master. Instead, on each of the album’s 9 tracks, Marshall, Hargreaves, and Kowert delight listeners by challenging – and learning from – each other. Without fail, each member of the trio repeatedly displays his flexibility, mastery, and virtuosity on his instrument.
Marshall and Hargreaves trade intricate echoed notes on the opening track "House Camp," Kowert’s bowed bass and Marshall’s blazing mandolin runs punctuate the violin work of Hargreaves on the romping "Little Bears," the trio creates a tangible sense of anxiety in "Three Dragons," and the interplay between mandolin and violin is nothing short of stunning on "Boston Girl."
The defining moment of the record comes on "Sleeping Giant," perhaps the most appropriately titled instrumental tune ever. An underlying current of drowsy tranquility, creating the vision of the slumbering monster at the top of Jack’s beanstalk, is repeatedly shattered by the bravado of Marshall’s mandocello during the chorus, bringing to mind the rumbling of the giant through the countryside.
The prowess of Hargreaves and Kowert gives strong indication that the acoustic world’s new generation of pickers offers a bright and mighty future. Let’s hope, though, that instead of passing the torch to soon-to-be titans like Hargreaves and Kowert, established masters like Marshall continue to carry it along with them.
Mike Marshall’s Big Trio’s eponymous debut is out now on Adventure Music.