Even young prodigies eventually grow up. Mandolin whiz Chris Thile has reached the ripe old age of 20, and shows no signs of narrowing his ever-expanding musical horizons. His latest, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost, is described by Bryan Sutton (one of the principle guitarists on the album) as “modern acoustic/neo-chamber music.” Sounds about right.
On this album, Thile determinedly expands the working definitions of both musical virtuosity and melodic structure.
Unlike many virtuosos, whose music veers off into a netherworld of technically challenging but musically vapid compositions, Thile’s tunes are catchy. The opening number “Song for a Young Queen” (penned for Natalie Portman) is infectious enough to winnow its way into your head and get stuck there. “Club G.R.O.S.S,” the most hardcore jazz tune on the CD, still manages to swing, with Jeff Coffin’s tenor sax trading “fours” with Chris.
The award for most rhythmically and melodically complex selection goes to “Riddles after Dark,” a duet that features Bela Fleck’s banjo and Thile’s mandolin spiraling and jousting through 3:24 of seemingly endless themes, variations, and contrapuntal harmonies.
Joining Thile on Not All… are A-list acoustic sidemen. Stuart Duncan and Sara Watkins play fiddle, Jerry Douglas is on dobro, Bryan Sutton and Sean Watkins handle guitar chores, Fleck is banjoist, Edgar Meyer and Byron House perform bass duties, and Jerry Coffin plays tenor sax for one song.
Thile not only composed every tune on Not All…, but served as its producer, as well. Gary Paczosa was both the recording engineer and co-mixer along with Chris.
Audiophile legend Doug Sax, from The Mastering Lab, put on the finishing sonic touches. The sound is simply impeccable.
My wife hates most jazz. Even classics like “Kind of Blue” leave her cold, but Not All… got both her thumbs up on first listen. Here is complex, musically innovative music that is still euphonic and accessible. Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost is among the most musically essential releases of 2001.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.