Yo-Yo Ma Trades Bach for Bluegrass in 'Goat Rodeo Sessions'

Yo-Yo Ma Trades Bach for Bluegrass in 'Goat Rodeo Sessions'

Their schedules are hard to mesh and match, but the four bluegrass and classical musicians who made "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" are hoping their collaboration will continue in the future.

"We had a really great time doing it, but there's a lot more depth there that we could plumb," cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who joined forces with mandolinist Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), fiddler Stuart Duncan and bassist Edgar Meyer on the 11-track set, tells Billboard.com. "I think everyone has very different types of schedules, like Edgar with his composition commissions -- he's probably in many ways the busiest person. But I think where there's a will there's a way, so we'll see."

Thile, who sang on two tracks with guest vocalist Aoife O'Donovan of Crooked Still, adds that, "I think we'll see it through. It's such a good hang and we're having so much fun making music together. We're born to do this thing; I get that feeling a lot playing with these guys. It's fun to be involved with people like that, so I'm completely humbled to be involved."

The roots of "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" were planted when Thile and Meyer began working together more than a decade ago. Meyer suggested that Yo-Yo Ma bring Thile on board for his 2008 holiday album "Songs of Joy and Peace," and the cellist expressed an interest in working together again. Thile and Meyer suggested Duncan as a fourth ingredient, and the ad hoc group jelled from the first rehearsal at Yo-Yo Ma's home in Cambridge, Mass.

"You look at it on paper and it's like, 'Gee, how come these people are getting together?!" Yo-Yo Ma recalls. "But we clicked immediately -- and partly because we basically share the same values. We're all interested in the world around us and in all different kinds of music. So when we got together it was such an excitement of, 'Gee, tell me more stories about Bill Monroe or the Stanley Brothers...' It's a typically American phenomenon that you can have a group of people who didn't grow up together or go to school together, but because they like one another and have certain values, they find a way to work together."

The troupe recorded "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" in two separate two-day gatherings during the summer, and Thile says there was little discussion about specific genres the songs should fit into. "It's more of a little Frankenstein music monster," he explains. "It's fairly easy to identify some of the elements... but I'm always eagerly looking to hide the seams. You want soup, not stew, and I think what you have is a broad range on the spectrum of formal to informal music-making. Everyone complements each other nicely. I think it's the kind of thing that maybe classical music listeners will think is bluegrass and bluegrass listeners will think it's classical. Hopefully it lands in the nebulous zone where it can't really be named."

The quartet recently appeared on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and are slated to perform on the Nov. 1 edition of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report." There are discussions about a full-scale concert, likely in Boston, that will be simulcast or taped, and Yo-Yo Ma says there's a desire to play more shows in the future.

"We're talking about touring a little bit further down the line," he says. "Everyone's schedule gets so filled, but it would be very exciting. It's great to make a recording, but it's great to also play for a live audience."