Andrew Collins & Marc Roy with EMORY LESTER at the Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West), Friday (October 17). $10. 416- 588-0307 . Rating: NNNNN
As a key member of the creaking Tree String Quartet, the Foggy Hogtown Boys, Crazy Strings and the Emory Lester Set, mandolin maestro Andrew Collins is one of the busiest pickers in the jam-friendly Toronto roots music scene. But even though he's got a gig somewhere in town on any given night of the week, Collins always finds time for one more project - particularly when it involves low-key guitar hotshot Marc Roy.
Anyone who has been to the Silver Dollar for the Crazy Strings Wednesday-night hoedown and seen the slouchy 20-year-old step forward and nonchalantly tear through mind-roasting runs will understand why Collins was so determined to make time in his already full schedule to collaborate with Roy on the brilliant Likewise duets album.
The independently produced and released disc doubles nicely as a showcase for Roy's impressive composing and playing skills.
"He really is an amazing talent," insists Collins. "I've been around him long enough to have seen him pick up someone else's instrument - something he doesn't normally play - and just start tossing off these incredible licks. It's fun to see people's expressions when Marc gets going. They usually get this look on their face like, 'Damn, I wish I could do that!'"
One day, Marc played Collins a tune he'd written called Dang Blues that really blew him away.
"It was more than just a well-written composition with a unique melody. It didn't sound like something anyone else could've written - it was a Marc Roy tune.
"That's when it hit me that Marc really needed do be in a recording situation where he's not just augmenting the talents of the other players but showing all he can do as an artist. He's such a creative player and so free on his instrument that a duet album would be the best approach since it would leave him room enough to stretch out improvisationally."
With two serious string slingers involved, you might expect a Collins-and-Roy duets session to quickly escalate into a duel of quick-picking one-upmanship, but Likewise didn't turn out that way. It's more an easygoing musical conversation between peers comfortable with each other and their own musical abilities.
Throughout their jazzy twist on traditional - which includes a head-turning take of the Meters' Cissy Strut - they both seem just as eager to play support as take the lead. Sure, there are some breathtaking runs, but it never comes off like showboating.
Collins credits the time he and Roy have been spending playing alongside bluegrass mandolin great Emory Lester in the Emory Lester Set as an important influence on their musical approach to the duets on Likewise.
"As a mandolinist, Emory has always been known in bluegrass circles as a shredder, always pushing the beat and showing his considerable chops at every chance.
"So when Emory asked me to be in his band, I expected him to be real flashy, but since the time he moved back to Virginia there've been some big changes. He's gone completely the other way. He'd actually rather let me take the solos while he concentrates on the melody and the sound of the group.
"Instead of learning how to be flashy, playing with Emory taught me more about the value of restraint and hearing the sound as a whole. I've learned a lot about being a mature player."