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Lovely and light-fingered, 'Not Our First Goat Rodeo' takes some daredevil rides into the unknown / San Francisco Classical Voice

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Is there a classical performer more keenly attuned to the moment than the cellist and musical ambassador Yo-Yo Ma? When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March, Ma launched a participatory social media project (#SongsOf Comfort) that's tapped a deep need for music as a unifying force in these isolating times. The performer's ongoing performances of Bach's Cello Suites around the world have seemed similarly soulful, global, and essential.

Never content to stay in any narrow lane, Ma has been crossing borders for decades. As a driving force in The Silk Road Project (now Silkroad), he brought together musicians from widely diverse ethnic regions and traditions. He's collaborated with scores of artists, from Astor Piazzolla to James Taylor, in other ways.

Now, in a reprise of the 2011 Goat Rodeo album, Ma has reunited with fiddle player Stuart Duncan, mandolinist Chris Thile, and bass player Edgar Meyer on the drolly titled and winningly big-hearted Not Our First Goat Rodeo. The Sony disc features the gently infectious singer Aoife O'Donovan on three of the album's 10 tracks.

The vitality kicks in right away with "Your Coffee Is a Disaster," all jittery, jangly plucks and shivers set off by wails of protest from the cello and fiddle, smoothed out later on by some creamy harmonies. The number feels both cunningly designed and loosely improvisatory, a well-made brew that's allowed to go awry a bit.

Lovely and light-fingered as it often is, this second Goat Rodeo also takes some daredevil rides into the unknown. As Ma has often demonstrated, music that takes risks can pay handsome rewards.     PHOTO: Josh Goleman

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