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Listening Post: Thile, Mehldau and Zenon


Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau, (Nonesuch, two discs)

Anyone at all disturbed that a bluegrass mandolin powerhouse and one of the great living jazz pianists should find common cause on a blisteringly played two-disc set is, at best, living in the wrong century. Musicians of this caliber belong together to see what happens.

Chris Thile, of the Punch Brothers, is such a bluegrass wonderment that his terrific tenor singing voice gets his piano-playing partner to warble a little grumbly baritone for antiphony. The trouble here -- and it is quite minor -- is that the sound of the mandolin is, at best, small and spindly. When you've got a pianist as roaringly virtuosic as Mehldau accompanying him, the pianist has to spend a lot of time not flattening his duet partner with sound.

That small reservation besides, this two-disc set is, in a low-key way, revelatory. These are two musicians who are deliciously attuned to one another. What Nonesuch president Bob Hurwitz says is this: "to be honest, I was not sure how well the two of them would work together, no matter how enthusiastic about them I was individually." The resultant disc, he says with understandable enthusiasm, helps "redefine what it means to be a modern musician....They have created something we have not heard before." True enough. No argument. And it's marvelous too; it veritably begs for more.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)

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