The banjo world is eagerly awaiting the next installment from 5 string magnifico Tony Trischka, Great Big World, due February 4 from Rounder.
Trischka first emerged on the scene in the early 1970s as part of the eclectic string music scene around Syracuse University. He performed as a member of both Country Cooking and Breakfast Special with other future notables Russ Barenberg, Pete Wernick, Andy Statman and Stacy Phillips, before releasing the first of his soon-to-be 17 solo albums, Bluegrass Light, in 1974.
From the start, it was clear that Tony was merging the roll style pioneered by Earl Scruggs, the single-string, almost guitaristic style of Don Reno, and the melodic, fiddlish approach developed by Bill Keith and Bobby Thompson, to take the banjo into new territory. The music he wrote was centered on the instrument and its unique capabilities, while stretching the harmonic envelope that had been associated with it since the 1940s.
And this has continued to be his modus operandi to the present day. Tony spent time with a band (Skyline), served as musical director of a Broadway pit orchestra (Robber Bridegroom), and recorded a number of successful solo projects. 2007 saw his first real breakout album, Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, in which he partnered on banjo duets with such stellar fellow five stringers as Earl Scruggs, Steve Martin and Béla Fleck. It was awarded the IBMA award for Recorded Event of the Year and Instrumental Album of the Year, and Tony was named their Banjo Player of the Year for ’07.
Great Big World features Trischka assisted by Mike Barnett on fiddle, Mike Compton on mandolin, Michael Daves on fiddle and vocals, and Skip Ward on bass. Also joining in are fellow banjoists Steve Martin and Noam Pikelny; vocalists Aoife O’Donovan, Catherine Russell and Abigail Washburn; and a reunion with guitarist Russ Barenberg and mandolinist Andy Statman.
Material ranges from a vocal version of Angelina Baker, several Trischka originals (both lyric and instrumental), to a western epic piece called Wild Bill Hickok, which includes lead vocals from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and a narration by actor John Goodman. Along the way, we get a new version of I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, and Swag Bag Rag, a new tune in the classic banjo style performed as a solo piece.
Tony explained a bit about his vision of the banjo after 40 some years of experimenting.
“Pretty much all of the old barriers are broken down now, so it doesn’t feel like a fight to create what you want to create. Even when I’m playing weird modern things, I’m still rooted in Earl Scruggs, but there are just so many more things you can do and so many options to explore. I just think of it all as being part of the whole continuum. I think it’s important to hold onto the roots, but I also think that the possibilities of banjo are endless, and that’s what keeps me going.”
The new album can be preordered now from Amazon.