A friend of mine introduced me to Uncommon Ritual, by insisting that it fit into the paradigm of my “obscure record reviews” that I had been doing for this blog. I trusted his judgement, bought the record, and was attracted to the diverse complexity that it presented. It’s a challenging record, both because it causes you to think before you feel. But once you’ve digested it, the cerebral mixes with the emotional, and the music opens itself up to you in ways that are rich and interesting. I had to live with it for a spell, to allow the complexities to wash over me if you will, and now I can’t stop playing it every chance I get.
Uncommon Ritual is credited to bassist virtuoso Edgar Meyer. Meyer is renown as a bluegrass musician, but he also extends into classical and world music. He often plays the bass with a bow, which gives his playing an ethereal texture that is more akin to a cello, than a bass. In short, his talent is vast, and his creativity is inspiring.
Joining Meyer on this album on banjo is Bela Fleck and Mike Marshall on guitar and mandolin. All three players rotate instruments and add different colors to the compositions, and all three contributed to the original material.
This album is defined as classical music, but that doesn’t quite capture the essence of what’s happening. There are Celtic jigs, bluegrass swings, and just about every other element of “outside the box” music you can bring to one session. It’s all instrumental, but the creativity of these three musicians, and how they accomplish such a large sound in so many diverse mediums, is both intense and sublime.
I’m not going to comment on specific tracks, because I believe this is an album that is best appreciated and understood, when listened to from start to finish. It’s like one complete breath, or a perfectly formed sentence that one couldn’t possibly ascertain the meaning of, without hearing its conclusion. Each track, while possessing stark contrasts to its preceding effort, seems to effortlessly bleed into the next, forming a story without one word being uttered throughout.
My friend described the music as intense before I had encountered it. He told me that it was much more intense than an album I had previously reviewed on this blog called Strength in Numbers which Meyer and Fleck both play on. When I first heard the album, I didn’t immediately agree with my friend that the music was more intense than Strength in Numbers. For all its subtleties, Numbers, reaches out and takes you by the jugular.
Uncommon Ritual by comparison is much more beautiful, as it takes its time to reveal itself. I found that with each new listen, I was hearing something I hadn’t heard before. Some new progression, or flourish of notes- some little accent or shift in the composition. With each new listen, I found myself understanding more and more what my friend meant when he said that this album is much more intense. It’s the creativity utilized to make such complex music, emotionally charged. It engages the listener with masterful playing and beautiful compositions that cuts to the core of everything- it makes you feel while simultaneously making you think. And it’s impossible to place into a category, which is what I love the most. (I sometimes dream about walking into a record store and the “sections” aren’t divided by genre, but by color. Whomever placed Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection in the yellow section, heard and saw yellow when they were listening to the album. Music makes me see and envision colors or landscapes.)
Admittedly, this album isn’t for everyone. But then again, no album really is. It takes patience in many different ways. First I would recommend sitting and listening to it from start to finish, which means you’ll have to dedicate an hour of your life to that very task. Second, it requires an open mind because it’s not easy music- it’s not being played on “common” instruments in a “common” format. But on a Sunday afternoon, or perhaps when you feel like you need something to help instigate a change, this record can help accomplish that very notion. Great music can inspire you to a point that you are willing to make drastic changes in your life- maybe to become more open to different cultures- or maybe it’s to pursue a new path that you’ve been hesitant to take. This album is that kind of music. At least it is for me. Give it a listen and maybe it might do the same for you.
(The title track “Uncommon Ritual”- stick with it, when it starts to pick up and bust into this Celtic theme.)