Biberfan's Album of the Year My thoughts went to Yo-Yo Ma recently when I read Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs. Ma comes up in the book; Jobs asked him to perform at his wedding and Ma could not. He asked him later to play at his funeral. Ma agreed. He must have had a very high opinion of Ma's music; he was in special company on Jobs' own iPod as one of the only classical artists. Going to iTunes I discovered this new album in collaboration with other musicians of what might be described as "bluegrass" music. The combinations of instruments center around Ma's cello, mandolin, violin, and bass. Guitar, piano, and vocals are also included on select tracks. Ma is the odd-man out here; the other three main collaborators wrote the music. Ma's contribution however is both warm and welcome. Seeing Ma play on the videos shows his passion towards the music, if not the collaborative project. So, as a fan of Baroque music, how do I go about choosing this album, a somewhat mish-mash style of Americana-inspired pieces, born of our own age, and not of composers who have been long-dead? This is the best-sounding recorded album I've come across this year. If I were choosing a baroque album, first coming to mind is Riccardo Minasi's Corelli's Legacy Musica Antiqua Roma. It's an excellent album I listen to almost every day. But this release by Ma and company is even better. It's jazzy, saucy, and yes, the combination of instruments is novel. Favorite tracks include Less is Moi, Attaboy, and Quarter Chicken Dark. I purchased the album right before Thanksgiving. The Americana feel (no doubt due to the presence of the banjo-y mandolin) felt like appropriate music for that holiday. But since then, I've been playing this on the hifi in my listening room, turned-up high. Not every track is a world-class gem, but there are so many wonderful moments, you can't fault these musicians at all. From the group performing at Google:
I came to tears reading reviews on Amazon this past weekend. Some folks hate the album (that's a great sign that it divides people so, I think, to be considered great) but an overwhelming majority have reserved such gushing language for the album. There seems to be consensus that this album will win a Grammy. No better praise could these musicians receive than to know that their effort has made such a profound impact on the emotional lives of others. What sets the music apart (aside from it being really well-written music, almost always fun) is the utterly high level of musicianmanship from each contributor. Duncan, Edgar, and Thile all were new names to me. No longer. Of any album I've purchased in 2011, this one receives my highest recommendation. Ma doesn't deserve credit for making it great, necessarily, but I can't help but think his collaboration made it happen. So much of what he does is synonymous with excellence. Like had Jobs, Ma has the best taste. Sample the album on YouTube.