I’ve written a fair amount in this space and elsewhere about Chris Thile, lately of Nickel Creek, most recently when he and the band performed with Fiona Apple in Central Park. In March I penned the program notes for a Carnegie Hall concert in which Chris and his new group premiered a large-scale piece called The Blind Leading the Blind:
The Blind Leaving the Blind is a 40-minute suite in four movements for voice, mandolin, violin, banjo, guitar, and bass. That’s the standard bluegrass lineup, of course, but The Blind Leaving the Blind doesn’t fit into that familiar pigeonhole, or any other. It’s not a medley-like string of songs, but a through-composed piece in which vocal passages and extended instrumental interludes are woven together into a tightly integrated whole that fuses the song-based structures of folk and pop with the large-scale, organically developed forms of classical music. If Chris were a classical composer, he might have called it a cantata, but that old-fashioned word suggests something far more formal in tone than the surprise-filled musical steeplechase that is The Blind Leaving the Blind….
For all these reasons and more, I was delighted to find the following press release in my e-mailbox when I got back to Manhattan:
Nonesuch Records has signed mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile as well as his new band, Punch Brothers: Chris Eldridge (guitar), Greg Garrison (bass), Noam Pikelny (banjo), and Gabe Witcher (fiddle). The band’s label debut will be released on February 26, 2008.
Thile is perhaps best known as a member of the Grammy Award-winning trio Nickel Creek, with whom he had played since childhood. He formed the band now known as Punch Brothers for his 2006 Sugar Hill record, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground. In a review of that album, the Chicago Tribune said, “After wandering ever further from bluegrass with Nickel Creek and his own solo albums over the past decade, mandolinist/singer Thile charges back to home base with a modernist bluegrass grand slam. Strutting their stuff with the boss is Thile’s cherry-picked crop of like-aged (mid-20s) acoustic virtuosi, including local boys Greg Garrison on bass and Noam Pikelny on banjo,” and the Wisconsin State JournalThe Blind Leaving the Blind, which the band performed at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall earlier this year, as part of label-mate John Adams’ In Your Ear festival.
Thile’s solo records and collaborations also will be released by Nonesuch, beginning with an album with composer/bassist Edgar Meyer later in 2008.
“In the more than two decades I have been at Nonesuch, this is the first time we have made two signings at once. The combination of natural talent, deep musicianship, and hard work has rarely been more obvious in a musical group of any genre than it is with Punch Brothers,” said label President Bob Hurwitz. “And regarding Chris–by the time I had heard him play a handful of phrases, I hoped that one day we might have the good fortune to work with him. He is the type of musician who comes around about once in a decade, and we are thrilled to begin a relationship with him now.”
Thile adds, “I’ve been a Nonesuch fan for years. It seems like every other record I fall in love with has that little ‘N’ on the back. When I found out the boys and I were going to be working with them I felt like I had been drafted by the Cubs. And I can’t imagine being more excited about a project than I am about Punch Brothers. The possibilities are endless with these guys!”
Review copies of the Punch Brothers album will be available later this fall, along with details of early-2008 performance dates.
I can’t wait.