Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tony Trischka's new CD -- A Great Big World

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The American banjo great Tony Trischka has come out with a gorgeous new CD, "A Great Big World." You can hear a preview of one track by clicking the link on the photo above.

The CD showcases Tony't thrilling virtuosity -- and includes guests such as Andy Statman,  Russ Barenberg,  Tristan Clarridge, Mike Barnett and others on a variety of songs -- including one of my favorites, Woody Guthrie's "Do-Re-Mi." All the tracks are winners -- but the one that really hit me was the oddly titled "Purple Trees of Colorado."Amazing.

Writes Bela Fleck in the Liner Notes -- which can be accessed online:

"Everyone loves to play with Tony, because of his strong musical gifts and conception, and because he's one of the coolest dudes to hang around with and be yourself. Not everyone who asks you to play on their record actually wants that, but he does."

Though I've seen him in the U.S., I know Tony from here in Europe -- where he plays often, and where he has had considerable influence. This has been particularly so in the Czech Republic, where his progressive bluegrass style was a powerful inspiration to (among others) the musicians who went on to found the group Druha Trava.

In the 1980s, DT's singer-songwriter Robert Krestan and banjoist Lubos Malina were members of the pioneering Czech progressive bluegrass group Poutnici. (They left Poutnici and formed DT in 1991.) Robert at that time also played banjo. Tony was one of their heroes.

As I noted in an earlier post, Tony first toured the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) in 1988, before the fall of communism, and he also returned in 1989, also before the Wall came down. During those stays, he performed as a guest on an LP by Poutnici, called "Wayfaring Stranger." In the liner notes, he describes Poutnici in much the same terms I have used to describe Druha Trava. "They … have a unique sound," he said. "Czechgrass instead of Kentucky bluegrass. In other words, they've made it their own, which is wonderful."

I've now caught Tony on tour with DT on several occasions -- first in 2008, and the latest time this past summer, where Tony tried out his new banjo -- a banjo made by the accomplished Czech banjo-maker Zdenek Roh.  (Zdenek is featured in the new documentary about Czech bluegrass, Banjo Romantika.)

Tony Trischka with his new banjo, made by Zdenek Roh. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

In addition to his Czech tours, Tony also plays elsewhere in Europe -- he teaches at a summer bluegrass workshop near Urbino, Italy, and this fall will be teaching at a "banjo camp" workshop in Germany.