David McCarty's Liner Notes to Reflections


Welcome to the world of Butch Baldassari and John Carlini, a place where acoustic string virtuosity and wide-ranging musical influences merge and diverge to create haunting aural images at once familiar and brilliantly explorational. Imagine Bill Monroe's hardscrabble roadhouse mandolin exploring both the uptown vistas of George Gershwin's elegant and romantic melodic sophistication, and the downtown modal improvisations of John Coltrane for a sense of the possibilities explored here. "Reflections" is filled with that kind of juxtaposition, where musical worlds collide to create their own unique planetary systems operating on rules of harmonic physics that should be contradictory, but in fact emerge as logical and elegant equations that reveal our musical common denominators.


The soloists here both have made indelible marks on today's propulsive and energetic acoustic music scene. John Carlini has been the man behind the curtain of the New Acoustic pyrotechnics, involved in everything from helping flatpicking legend Tony Rice absorb the jazz theory needed to energize his evocative playing to another level, to helping arrange and coordinate the ensemble playing of groups ranging from the David Grisman Quintet to the Nashville Mandolin Ensemble.


The latter association brought him into contact with Butch Baldassari, who, in addition to being one of the true keepers of the Monroe-style bluegrass mandolin flame, has branched out to explore everything from turn-of-the-last-century mandolin orchestra performance pieces, Appalachian fiddle music, and his own brand of brilliant original acoustic string music.


Both men have immense musical vocabularies, carrying a universal stylistic passport that allows them to cross musical boundaries and frontiers with easy elegance. A master of the perfectionist's detail and the oft-overlooked nuance, John's taste and intelligence radiate throughout his playing here. Listen carefully to the delicate minor fill-ins he places behind Butch's mandolin on the Reinhardt-Grappelli styled classic, "Limehouse Blues", and you almost can hear the clink of Baccarat crystal glasses filled with Pernod and smell the acrid scent of Gitanes being chain-smoked in the legendary Hot Club du France.


For Butch, putting the perfect note in the right place at precisely the moment it's required has earned him international acclaim. On "Twilight Waltz", his gorgeous mandolin tones and effortless phrasing of the melody sound like the notes were etched directly into the CD with an eight-string laser. Always ready to delve into the mysteries interconnecting all things musical, midway through Gershwin's classic "Piano Prelude II", he morphs into a Monroe-influenced solo that brilliantly demonstrates the parallels between popular American musical styles.


Surprises like that abound here, from the brilliant merging of John Coltrane's Jazz saxophone hymn, "Spiritual", with Bill Monroe's gospel-haunted "Evening Prayer Blues" to "Winin' Boy Blues", where Butch and John reinvoke the string duets of Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson. Through their formidable experience and willingness to experiment, Butch Baldassari and John Carlini have conjured up a unique world where the high lonesome blues from the hollows of Kentucky, syncopated string jazz from the boulevard cafés of Paris and fascinating rhythms echoing along the Broadways of uptown Manhattan all come together under one roof.