Virtuoso mandolin player Chris Thile was a child prodigy who gained fame, fortune, and widespread acclaim with Nickel Creek. Not only a supreme picker, Thile also became an innovator who explored music far beyond his bluegrass roots, which he has continued in myriad projects after the Creek dried up. He assembled a virtual dream team of young acoustic musicians—fiddler Gabe Witcher, guitarist Chris Eldridge, banjoist Noam Pikelny, bassist Greg Garrison—for what was nominally a solo project (2006's How to Grow a Woman from the Ground). The quintet quickly became a full-fledged band with a moniker swiped from a Mark Twain short story and a dazzling album—Punch (Nonesuch), released last winter—boasting a sophisticated blend of bluegrass, jazz, and classical. The quintet, playing as a kind of bluegrass chamber group, shines through on complex, challenging compositions highly structured but critically fleshed out via improvisation. The centerpiece, however, is Thile's four-movement suite "The Blind Leaving the Blind," a stunning musical roller coaster about the severe sense of betrayal Thile experienced when his marriage fell apart. Thile, by the way, will soon be back on the road with double bass maestro Edgar Meyer. Their new duo album will be out on Nonesuch in late September.
Fri., Sept. 5, 7 p.m., 2008