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When Bill Monroe pushed the mandolin forward as a lead instrument, he opened a Pandora's box of musical possibilities, but even he couldn't have imagined a recording like this. Neither classical nor jazz nor bluegrass, the sound owes much to David Grisman--whom Marshall studied under and Thile worshipped--who just called it "dawg music." Call these live instrumentals "cat music": slinky, cool, effete, at times sphinx-like, at times blissed out on improvisational 'nip. Culled from a range of small-theater concerts in the winter of 2003, the set emphasizes original compositions--some written collaboratively--and one Bach revision, plus a blazing Bulgarian folk tune. Though writing credits are split evenly, Marshall is the de facto leader here. His jaunty, funky rhythms keep Thile's capricious twists grounded through the time shifts of "The Only Way Out," and his playful countermelodies turn the pastoral, seven-minute excursion "Joy Ride in a Toy Car/Hey Ho" into an experiment from a time machine set to either 1740 or 2740. The improvisation on a Bach violin partita, however, conveys the warmest, clearest melody, while "Sedi Donka" deserves its own genre: thrashgrass. Hearing these two maestros, the most expert mandolinist will likely succumb to despair--albeit a dizzying, lyrical, even beautiful despair. --Roy Kasten
Live Duets is a full-scale event! A must-hear for lovers of top-notch musicianship and creativity and a chance for all to experience two masters stretching out! Mandolin masters Mike Marshall and Chris Thile supported their historic collaboration on 2003's Into The Cauldron with a small run of must-see tour dates. At those precious handful of shows, two of the most talented musicians on the planet ignited stages with their incendiary performances captured here LIVE on the future-classic Live Duets. Sugar Hill. 2006.