Required Listening: Strength in Numbers, The Telluride Sessions

by Randy Murray on January 18, 2012

This Required Listening post is by Penny Mattern


Strength in Numbers made only one recording, in 1998. They are (in alphabetical order) Sam Bush (mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Bela Fleck (banjo), Edgar Meyer (bass), and Mark O’Connor (violin), each of whom is recognized as a virtuoso player at the top of his field.

And if you recognize their names and know that their instruments are mandolin, bass, banjo, violin and dobro (and guitar), you also know that their playing can be, as it is on this record, unusual and unconventional as well as virtuosic, and that it partakes of many style elements from classical to international and world music as much or more than to newgrass per se.

There’s only one recording by the group Strength in Numbers, and it is this one, The Telluride Sessions (CD, or here from iTunes). The strength of Strength in Numbers is their ensemble playing. Even the composing has been shared (round-robin two-by-two composition of the ten pieces), and the playing is fully ensemble, with each of the five supplying musical elements of the arrangement, rather than only one lead and a bunch of accompanists on any song.

You may have noticed that six instruments are named, but that there are only five players. Occasionally, someone picks up a different instrument and astonishes the listener all over again. Bela Fleck lays down the banjo to play a heartbreakingly beautiful guitar part on One Winter’s Night, while Mark O’Connor plays full-speed-ahead guitar on Slopes and wild mandolin on Macedonia (don’t try this at home), and Sam Bush joins in with another violin on the second half of One Winter’s Night.

If you think, because of the instruments I’ve named, that you are in for a hoedown or some homespun plucking and picking, think again. Listen to it: you are in for a huge and wonderful surprise.


More Required Listening

The Required Listening: Strength in Numbers, The Telluride Sessions by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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