Published Sep 16, 2016To call Toronto's Andrew Collins a master of the mandolin would be putting it mildly. A mainstay of Toronto's bluegrass scene for years as a member of the Foggy Hogtown Boys, Collins veered into the jazzier new acoustic genre with Creaking Tree String Quartet, and pushed that envelope further with two solo albums (Little Widgets and Cats and Dogs). But Collins' strength as a composer, especially of artfully arranged string music perhaps best described as "chambergrass," shines through in the trio format.
It doesn't hurt that his trio is rounded out by Mike Mezzatesta (mandolin, guitar, fiddle) and James McEleney (bass, mandocello), musicians with versatility to match his own. On And It Was Good, Collins divides his time among mandolin, mandola, mandocello and fiddle, and smoothes out the otherwise punctuated sound of the mandolin with the help of guest musicians the Phantasmagoria String Quartet (John Showman and Trent Freeman on violins, Ben Plotnick on viola and Eric Wright on cello).
A celestial concept album, the Andrew Collins Trio's second offering delivers track after track of saturated musical thinkpieces that, for all their complexity, are still solidly musical. At moments when the vibe starts to get too cerebral, Collins reins it all back in, as with the solid rhythmic chop halfway through "Stars, Sun & Moon" and the rock riff followed by flatpicking on "Everything That Creeps."
It's no surprise that Collins, who these days is known as much for his recording engineering as his playing, has brought the best out of these instruments on the album, recorded and co-produced by David Travers-Smith. But these intricately layered pieces are just as good live, and in an incredible act of sorcery, can somehow be pulled off with only three musicians.
A well-made album with serious cross-genre appeal, And It Was Good lives up to its name, and then some. (Independent)