"What a thrill it is to be here with Chet Atkins," mandolinist Jethro Burns told a packed house at Baird Auditorium last night. "This is about the cheapest I've gotten to see him." Before removing tongue from cheek, Burns added that one instrument manufacturer asked him to announce he was playing its competitor's model, a disclaimer that seemed all the more silly by evening's end.
Mandolinists rarely perform alone, but Burns' ability to combine fleet, single note runs with lush chordal accompaniment puts him in a class by himself. His wonderfully melodic arrangements of pop standards and bluegrass tunes were full of extemporaneous quotes, accelerated passages and sly, witty licks.
Atkins was even more impressive, though he, too, occasionally missed a note while attempting fiendishly difficult runs. Playing a nylon string acoustic guitar, he skillfully embroidered the works of a number of contemporary tunesmiths, including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell. In a more traditional vein, Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" also displayed Atkins' extraordinary technique.
The highlight of the concert came when Atkins pulled out an old F hole steel-string guitar and played rhythm under Burns' sprightly melodies. The delightfully old-time flavor of "My Blue Heaven" and "After You've Gone" nimbly recalled jazz duets of the '30s.