Ingenious Improv

Too restless to fit within the confines of newgrass, jazz or rock, yet incorporating elements of all those genres, the Anger/Marshall Band's music is stunning in its sheer eclecticism and virtuosity.

Led by Darol Anger (violins) and Mike Marshall (mandolin, steel and nylon-string guitars, fiddle, celloguitar, ouditar), and also including bassist Derek Jones and percussionist Aaron Johnston, the Anger/Marshall Band may be too esoteric for some. But the bracing complexity of instrumentals such as the moody "Tuesdays at 7:30" (RealAudio excerpt) is exciting. Solo swapping in bluegrass and jazz is de rigueur, but here it's done within the context of tightly interlocked parts contributed by all the players and played over textured layers of rhythm.

"Queequeg's Big Adventure" and "Around Here" (RealAudio excerpt) (which veers uncomfortably close to light jazz) are notable for Anger's dexterity and commanding attack on violin. Numbers such as the vaguely exotic "Zakir" and the whimsical "Emu's Blues" (RealAudio excerpt), while less emotionally engaging as songs, offer a study in improvisational daring. On "Coal Burnin' Grease Fire" (RealAudio excerpt), Anger and guest banjoist Alison Brown deftly exhibit their resourceful musicianship, as the former NewGrange bandmates expertly shadow and complement each other's lead lines with lightning-fast rapidity.

In traditional contexts, solos are performed to serve songs. These 10 instrumentals were clearly composed by players hungry to experiment with polyrhythms and explore new musical possibilities.