This recording, The Duo, is a bit of history. Not because it was originally released back in 1983, but because it’s the first time these two musicians recorded together. Darol Anger – mostly known as a facile and innovative violinist, but equally capable on mandolin, octave mandolin and cello; and Mike Marshall – primarily known as a consummate virtuoso mandolinist, but also quite handy on the violin, guitar and mandocello, became members of David Grisman’s band in the late 1970s. Once they had joined the band, they became instant friends, musical collaborators, and general partners in crime. They were both in their Twenties, brimming with energy, ideas and passion, and ready to take on anything the world had to offer. This recording, made in the off-hours of a California recording studio, represents the eclectic interests (bringing together elements of bluegrass, blues, classical, folk, and jazz in a heady, intoxicating mix) of these budding musicians who would redefine acoustic music for the 80s and 90s. Anger and Marshall have continued to work together ever since that time, producing a string of wonderful recordings.
Some of the pieces recorded here were a preview of things to come, like Marshall’s transcription and performance of the Bach Partita No. 3 in E Major, which is played remarkably pure except for some subtle jazz inflections that crop up in the last few moments of the piece. Today Marshall continues to transcribe and perform Bach’s music in his duet recordings with Chris Thile, the amazing young mandolinist from the band, Nickel Creek. Most of the numbers on The Duo were either written or arranged by Marshall and/or Anger, except for “Children’s Song No. 6” by Chick Corea and “Donna Lee” by Charlie Parker, both notable because of their jazz origins.
Every number here is sparkling, vibrant, and full of passion. The musicianship is flawless. Compared to today, both of these men have gained depth and subtle mastery of their instruments, but when this recording was made, their instruments and performances were being driven by the expansive fires of youthful exuberance that almost threatened to overwhelm them and their music, but were never quite able to do so. From the soulful opening notes of “Rotagilla” to the high skirling harmonies of “N.K.F.,” and from the freewheeling runs of “Donna Lee” to the haunting, driving refrains of “It’s Dark,” there are no missed opportunities here, only fully realized musical treasures. The Duo marked the beginning of a musical friendship and a series of collaborations that with any luck will never end. Here’s to friends.
– Hermon Joyner