Apparently there is an ample supply of extravagantly gifted musicians who like to pursue freewheeling fusions of acoustic music — and bassist Edgar Meyer seems eager to collaborate with any and all. In his latest venture, Meyer has joined up with mandolinist Chris Thile of the “newgrass” band Nickel Creek for a 12-city tour, forging and learning a whole new repertoire of graceful, intricate, literate, occasionally rousing music.
Lacking a handy label for this duo, the L.A. Philharmonic stuck them in its World Music series at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Monday night, which is a convenient stopgap but doesn’t tell you anything about what is going on here. Basically, Meyer and Thile continued to ruminate through the mixture of classical, folk, bluegrass, jazz and pop streams that Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor popularized in 1996’s “Appalachia Waltz” (Sony), forming a Sixth Stream through the most economical means.
Though their music is obviously carefully worked out and rehearsed, Meyer and Thile make it seem as if their two sets were casually thrown together.
Some of the new pieces actually lacked titles, and some of those that did had names that seemed, shall we say, provisional (such as “Obligatory Set-Closer” or “F-Sharp Slow-Fast Five” or the Zappa-esque “Shut Up And Play”).
Not everything was original. The exceptions were a pair of highly respectful transcriptions of J.S. Bach’s works that proved, if nothing else: a), these guys have the chops to play them, and b), Bach sounds good on any combination of instruments.
Both have become engaging showmen — the 23-year-old Thile leaping and bounding to and from the wings, going into spasmodic dances onstage as if he were Stravinsky’s puppet Petrouchka; Meyer seductively moving around his bass with every glissando. Best of all, they appreciate the specialized acoustics of Disney Hall, insisting upon playing with only the barest of amplification so that the woody properties of the acoustic bass and every pin-prick of the mandolin came through with maximum, undistorted resonance.
Now the crucial question; was there any truly memorable material here? Alas, aside from the funky “Jessica’s Reel” and some sparks in the untitled stuff, there was very little to hang onto. We were left with a pair of virtuosos who communicate beautifully with each other while leaving few traces in their wake.