David Grisman & Martin Taylor
Tone Poems II
Acoustic Disc CCD-18
review by Art Menius, Music Boulevard, November 1995
In 1994 David Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label released Tone Poems, pairing the exploratory mandolinist with bluegrass guitar giant Tony Rice. The two lovingly played traditional, bluegrass, and swing music on an assortment of vintage guitars and mandolins. Grisman repeats that success with Tone Poems II. For the sequel Grisman cast Martin Taylor, a Scottish guitar virtuoso who spent more than a decade touring with Stefane Grappelli. Grisman also collaborated with the late violinist, a major influence on Dawg music, and thus he met Taylor more than a decade ago.
Unlike most follow-ups, Tone Poems II retains all the strengths of the original, while discovering new avenues to explore. While the Grisman/Rice project reflected its hillbilly roots, Taylor and Grisman delve into acoustic jazz music. They give the music a glorious amount of space to breathe, never permitting their technical mastery to overwhelm the melodic beauty of these classic tunes; only Taylor’s “Musette for a Magpie” is original. They celebrate tunes from jazz figures ranging from Duke Ellington (“Mood Indigo”) and their shared idol Django Reinhardt (“Tears”) to Chick Corea (“Crystal Silence”).
Yet many of Tone Poem II’s finest moments come with the several classic pop tunes they incorporate into their own kind of jazz. Grisman and Taylor find surprising melodic depth and room for self-expression in an array of stalwart tunes all too often dismissed as just antiquated pop. These two players discover the musical riches of “Over the Rainbow,” “Anything Goes,” “It Had To Be You,” “Over the Rainbow,” and even Johnny Mercer’s “Jeepers Creepers.” Great musicians can find art wherever it hides.
As with the first disc, the instruments play a role beyond the sound. The guitars, mandolins, mandolas, and mandocellos star in the 48 page, full color booklet. Each instrument employed by Martin or Grisman receives its own page with an essay and color portrait, often augmented by details, contemporaneous ads, or photos of famed players. Luthiers crafted most of these between the World Wars, but they range from a 1915 Gibson mandola to a 1994 John Montoleone guitar and Gilchrist mandolin. Most of the instruments come from Gibson, Martin, and Epiphone, but several less common names appear as well. The booklets from the two Tone Poem CD’s alone provide a wonderful introduction to vintage instruments.
From the music to the package, Tone Poems II by David Grisman and Martin Taylor proves exquisite. It demonstrates the simple, timeless beauty of two master musicians with instruments worthy of their artistry.