Musical Chemistry

Musical styles and genres coalesce when Tucson musicians Michael Lich and Robert Matheson perform together as the Ironwood Duo.

The two have been playing together for five years and have become known for packing a plethora of musical styles into single compositions.

"When I was a kid, I was listening to and playing classic rock 'n' roll music," said Matheson, who plays double bass for the duo. "It wasn't until I became a teenager and heard Charles Mingus for the first time that I really started to delve into jazz and other more classic types of music."

Lich also was initiated into the world of music via rock, but his tastes grew ever more diverse when he was introduced to the music of classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, and classical jazz and banjo great Béla Fleck. He realized that styles as different as, say, jazz and bluegrass didn't necessarily need to be mutually exclusive.

The duo's performances incorporate everything from Bach's harpsichord preludes, to tracks from Jimi Hendrix's inimitable "Purple Haze," to original compositions that infuse jazz, bluegrass and world music.

When asked how the group is able to keep the music fluid, and not cluttered and chaotic, Lich responded, "We've been playing together for a long time, and we both know how to play off of each other."

Lich plays classical guitar and banjo, and he also composes and arranges music. He said he does not limit his musical palette and has delved into styles as diverse as classical, jazz, bluegrass and East Indian.

A writer from the Sierra Vista Herald once referred to Lich as a "musician's musician." When asked what he thought this meant, Lich said, "I do a lot musically, with the original compositions, playing eclectic styles and whatnot."

Music has taken Lich all over the world, from Brazil to South Korea, and Lich has received favorable press in these various countries. When not playing his own compositions or touring with the Ironwood Duo, Lich teaches guitar at the Academy of Music and Dance and at Pima Community College.

Matheson is a double bassist and composer, and his music utilizes sounds from classical, jazz, folk and rock to create a powerful and thick sound that resonates with the listener.

Matheson honed his playing in numerous performing groups prior to hooking up with Lich and forming the Ironwood Duo. His former groups include Toccata, the Blue Pacific Swing Band, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra. He has also collaborated with visual artists, dancers and other musicians on improvisation projects that seek to bridge the musical and the visual.

When not performing, he is a teaching artist with the Opening Minds Through the Arts program, and occasionally teaches at Pima Community College.

The two said they knew they had musical chemistry when introduced by a mutual friend in 2005.

"Here was this guy who, like me, was into all these different types of music," said Lich. "Our playing styles just sort of coalesced together."

Added Matheson, "The Ironwood Duo is just a different way of being creative. It gives me a chance to play with someone who has a similar vision as me, which allows me to arrange music that we love and really want to play."

The Ironwood Duo promises an exciting set list for the June 27 show.

"The audience can expect some great music," said Lich. "We'll be playing some traditional Spanish music, such as flamenco. We'll be doing some repertoire stuff from the baroque era that we've transcribed for the banjo. We'll be playing bluegrass, and we'll even be doing some ... Les Claypool-esque stuff. It should be a fantastic show."

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