On a week that we feature the string trio Time for Three on the cover, it would be neglectful not to mention a group like The Maple Trio, which similarly transmutes the raw material of American music into something that's not quite classical, not quite folk, not easily classified. Their work is skillfully executed, ambitious and experimental, with a breathy, organic texture consistent with the group's adoration of nature, trees above all. It's in the same vein as the Appalachian Waltz record featuring three giants (Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O'Connor and Edgar Meyer) performing American folk, though the instrumentation slightly differs from that project. There's no bass in The Maple Trio, but there is a cello (Grover Parido) and violin (Matt Koher, who also plays mandolin), as well as a guitar and banjo (both played by Doug Sauter).
Samara, an unassuming cardboard-packaged CD, is The Maple Trio's second album, coming after a Christmas album the group worked up during an extended residency at an LA hotel. So this is the first album of originals, and it's a mixed bag in the best possible way. There are waltzes, taken slowly, elegiacally, digressively ("Woodland Waltz"), and at a speed more practical for dancing ("Grover's Waltz"). A dark, brooding number ("Octopi") and upbeat, clean tunes that function as showpieces for improvisation ("Ambrosia," "Second Thoughts"). A feature for cello ("Filter"), a fragment ("Free from Liberty") and more conventional folk interpretations ("Down in the Willow Garden," "Shenandoah," which preserves that song's quiet, nostalgic melody). And more freely improvised songs, including "7 Train," with its reflective, late-night vibe, and the atonal "treemusicpeople," which is the most unrestrained and longest of the bunch, and replicates the moment during the Maple Trio's live show when the group asks the crowd to improvise along with the band, by singing, humming or improvising percussion - or any other means.
It's all dedicated to trees, as noted in the liner notes, which also contain this short poem: "The myriad ways of trees / As with people / So too with music / Transcendent of all."