This CD, which one may readily consider as both within and apart from the extraordinarily satisfying newgrass/prog-grass wave, is eyebrow-raisingly—indeed shockingly—good. Jake Schepps plays the 5-string banjo, turning in a marvelous performance both in the rhythm section and as a lead player, but the guy's taste in collaborators may well surpass even his heavily finessed compositional and executory skills. He's assembled a trio behind him, all together monikered The Expedition Quartet, riveting in its dynamics and thoroughly empathic in their lines. Eric Thorin chuggarumps a powerful presence right from the start, bullfrogging his bass duties very akin to a low-strung lazy guitar's, with clever patterns and sidethrown note abbreviations. Ryan Drickey provides a son-of-the-prairie git-fiddle as liquid and mercurial as sun and wind on a plains summer, and Greg Schochet supplies guitar and mando, picking and strumming with brio, complexity, and depth.
As a young'un, I was attracted to the Flatts & Scruggs that could occasionally be caught on TV (Beverly Hillbillies, etc.) not to mention the occasional pickin' 'n grinnin' boys down from Mount Pilot on the Andy Griffith Show, but was always left wanting more in the way of modernity. Buying full LPs of such music was inevitably a matter of settling for too many waaaaay country cuts, the which I wasn't very nuts about. Well, it took quite a while, but lately there's been a rich cavalcade of exactly that sort of desired updated product available and Jake Schepps is 100% on the dime in providing the very best, worthy of being shelved with any genre group one would care to name.
Several of the songs were composed after some of Richard Avedon's photographs collectively entitled In the American West, wherein Schepps matches the intelligence and aesthetics Avedon—in this exercise much like a latterday Edward Weston—imbued his work with. Quintessentially heartland, the Expeditionary Quartet manages to inform the material with a narrative level and eloquence worthy of ECM releases. The banjo often favors a balladic approach, wistful with the lonely expanses of the nation's breadbasket but glowing with light despite that haunting milieu. Even the release's title has literary antecedents, deriving from a 7th century collection of Japanese poems. In the kick-off cut, Schepps reworks an Astor Piazzola tango, and the engineering behind this whole CD is of the highest quality, a museum showcase. In whole, then, Ten Thousand Leaves is a lavish banquet of pensivity, jams, lyrical harmonies, and startlingly modern evolutions of a revered style slowly and muscularly reinventing itself, keeping a very important staple of the American culture not only alive but fresh and compelling.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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