Noam Pikelny

In the Maze

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Jam band aficionados will recognize banjoist Noam Pikelny as a former member of Colorado legends Leftover Salmon. On his solo debut he continues to explore the jazzy side of acoustic music, teaming up with mandolinist Matt Flinner, guitarist David Grier, fiddler Gabe Witcher, and bassist Todd Phillips to deliver a solid set of original compositions that constantly meander back and forth across the boundary lines that separate jazz, bluegrass, and folk music. Unsurprisingly, given that he's a former student of both Béla Fleck and Mark Vann, Pikelny's playing style is melodic rather than traditional, but many of his compositions -- especially "Speed Bump" and the lovely "Overland" -- hark back explicitly to the good old days of traditional bluegrass breakdowns, while others (notably the deliriously complex and beautiful "Manchicken") split the difference between tradition and innovation, and still others (like the title track) trade speed and energy for a contemplative lyricism. The two tracks that are not Pikelny compositions (Ross Martin's "Flight of the Green Chair" and Greg Garrison's "Charlie's Song") are both perfectly nice, but not as noteworthy as his own compositions. Overall, this is a very impressive debut from a young but already well-established solo artist. Recommended.

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