Meyer, Bush and Douglas to take Aspen stage |

Meyer, Bush and Douglas to take Aspen stage

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Lynn Goldsmith/Special to The Aspen TimesNashville string players Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer and Sam Bush, left to right, in rehearsal Wednesday afternoon. The trio performs an Aspen Music Festival special event at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Benedict Music Tent.

ASPEN – Sam Bush says he was knocked out the very first time he heard bassist Edgar Meyer perform. It was at Indiana University, where Meyer was a student, and Meyer’s band opened for New Grass Revival, the boundary-breaking string quintet that featured Bush on mandolin.But Bush says what really opened his eyes was the next time he saw Meyer – at the Pitkin County Fair in Aspen, when Meyer took third place in the fiddle competition, playing fiddle tunes on bass.The impact was instantaneous. “I felt he was in uncharted waters, and in an area of music that I had never seen anyone do. And still haven’t seen anyone do,” Bush said. “It’s effortless how he can get over the entire range of the bass, the same register as the fiddle players. Then later that night I saw how quick his mind could work. He and Bla [banjoist Bla Fleck, a bandmate of Bush’s in New Grass Revival] were playing outside the Hagen-Dazs in Aspen, sight-reading out of the jazz fake book.”As a bassist who was looking to expand the boundaries of string bass, Meyer was, of course, immediately attracted to Bush, and his fellow pioneers pickers in New Grass Revival. But Meyer wasn’t only instantly floored by the novel approach. He knew he should keep his ears open for what was still to come from the quartet, including Bush, the mandolinist who was inventing a new rhythmic vocabulary for string bands.”Really understanding what Sam does is a long-term thing,” Meyer said.Meyer has, indeed, made a long-term commitment to studying Bush’s playing. The two were bandmates in Strength in Numbers, the supergroup that also included Fleck, dobroist Jerry Douglas and fiddler Mark O’Connor. The particular glimpse that Meyer got of the mandolinist’s technique in Strength in Numbers was as short-lived; the quintet recorded just one album, 1989’s “Telluride Sessions,” before moving on to other projects.But the dissolution of the group didn’t mark the end of Meyer’s close-range studying of Bush’s playing. The two have participated in numerous projects together, from jams at the Telluride Bluegrass and Bonnaroo festivals to various recording projects to an Aspen concert several years ago that also featured violinist Joshua Bell.The conversation between Meyer and Bush carries on Thursday, when the two are joined by Douglas at an Aspen Music Festival special event at the Benedict Music Tent.Two years ago, Meyer, a member of the Aspen Music School’s bass faculty, played a Music Festival concert with jazz bassist Christian McBride. It was their first performance together, following one night of rehearsal. Last year, Meyer’s annual Aspen concert was a duo with Chris Thile, a mandolinist Meyer has been working with since he appeared on Thile’s 2001 album, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” The twosome has worked periodically since then, and last year released the duo album, “Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile,” but last summer’s concert was their first together in 18 months.Thursday’s concert will have Meyer in most familiar company. Much of the music he and Bush have made together has also included Douglas. In 2007, Meyer, Bush and Douglas formed a trio for a three-week tour that took them all the way to Carnegie Hall, and they have played a small handful of dates since. Before that, the three played occasional gigs they refer to as “Skip, Hop & Wobble” shows, named for the 1994 album that featured Meyer, Douglas and guitarist Russ Barenberg. (Bush calls himself the “fourth wheel” for such performances.)The trio reconvened recently to record “Junior Heywood,” a track for Bush’s upcoming album “Circles Around Me,” set for release in October. (That album also features an appearance by the Meyer Family Strings, a threesome comprising Edgar; his wife, Connie Heard, a member of the Aspen Music School’s violin faculty; and their 16-year-old violin-playing son, George, in his recording debut.)”Jerry and Sam, for me, are defining influences,” said Meyer, who lives a few miles from Douglas and Bush in Nashville, where the three often socialize. “They are just what music is. Playing with them is a reminder of what music is. If I forget.”Meyer, Bush and Douglas have yet to make a trio album. But they have begin the work of creating a distinctive sound. “Even though this trio is sparse, it’s got great rhythm,” said Bush. “Edgar hits the downbeat, and I hit the upbeat. And you get to hear what a great rhythm player Jerry is. You can just hear, in this ensemble, his sustains and nuances. As a person who love to play rhythm, there’s a feeling to this that doesn’t feel like anything else.”It’s interesting to me that Jerry, Edgar and I were the three main rhythm players in Strength in Numbers. Because we didn’t have a rhythm guitar player.”For Bush, rhythm-oriented is a natural. His own band is known for playing reggae songs on string instruments. But the trio also pulls him away from his customary mode. It is the only setting in which he doesn’t plug in his instruments. And it is the partnership that brings him closest to the realm of composed music.”Edgar’s the guy who’s made this bridge into the world that, for me, is the classical world,” he said Tuesday afternoon, at a condo on Aspen’s East End. “I’m not a classical musician, but I’m glad I get to be a part of this world.”Meyer gets plenty of opportunity to experience different musical worlds. He is a highly regarded composer as well as a bassist, and is as likely to appear in a concert hall as he is at a bluegrass festival. So he enjoys the comfort of being surrounded onstage by familiar partners – and the prospect of getting together again and again down the long road.”I’m the kind of person, if I find someone I like to play with, I like to play with them a long time,” he said. “I don’t need to find new people. I’ve found only two or three significant new people in the last 20 years.”Bush agrees that being flanked by Meyer and Douglas creates a comfort zone.”We’re the three guys, out of all these ensembles we’re in, we just play a certain way because it feels good,” he said. “Some people have to figure out why it feels good. We’re not three of those people.”

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