Grisman brings new band to Chili Fest
SNOWMASS VILLAGE When the David Grisman Quintet first introduced its “Dawg” music – a blend of jazz, bluegrass and South American styles named after Jerry Garcia’s nickname for mandolinist Grisman – few acoustic music fans were looking to improve upon the original. The quintet’s self-titled debut, released 30 years ago, is still hailed as having opened new doors for acoustic pickers.But the DGQ was not a static combo. Within a few years, original members, guitarist Tony Rice and fiddler Darol Anger, had left the group, to be replaced by Mark O’Connor and Stéphane Grappelli, respectively. And while there was, of course, some griping with the changes, the band carried on quite respectably. The French-born Grappelli was already a star, having founded the Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt several decades earlier. And O’Connor, a little-known teenager at the time, became one of the most respected instrumentalists of his day – though on the violin.”We didn’t miss a beat,” said Grisman of the change in personnel. “No one threw tomatoes. And no one asked where Tony Rice was. Which kind of surprised me.”Change is in the air again for the DGQ, which for more than a decade had a steady lineup of bassist Jim Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, guitarist Enrique Corea and percussionist/fiddler Joe Craven. Drummer George Marsh – an member of the combo in the mid-’80s – replaced Craven in 2005. And this year, Corea was replaced by guitarist Frank Vignola.
The new-look Grisman Quintet headlines the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest in Snowmass Village Friday. It marks Vignola’s first gig with the group.Grisman expects Vignola, a 41-year-old native of Long Island, N.Y., to add a rhythmic element that the quintet was first known for. He said that Corea was not holding up the rhythmic end, making it difficult for Grisman to solo as he wanted to. Grisman added that rhythmic guitar players are hard to come by in acoustic music, as most guitarists emphasize their soloing prowess.”Frank is one of the great rhythm guitar players, and outside of bluegrass, there’s not much going on, on rhythm guitar in acoustic music,” said Grisman, speaking from his home in California. “Frank is one of the things that is going on. Frank’s one of the few guitarists who understand the art of accompaniment.”Where the Argentinean-born Corea specialized in the Latin side of the quintet’s music, Grisman began wanting someone fluent in all facets of the Dawg sound. Grisman had done some performing and recording with Vignola in the past, and the two got together a few months ago for some informal jamming. While they were playing, Grisman began wondering how Vignola would fare playing bluegrass-oriented material; when the guitarist, without being prompted, began playing some bluegrass chops, Grisman saw the potential. “Hey, I taught Enrique to play bluegrass. I’ll teach Frank,” he said.Grisman said that the changes in the DGQ lineup have never been made simply to shake up the group. “Change is good – but not just for change,” he said. “‘Time for a new album, time for a new band’ – I’m not that kind of guy. I like to go the distance. If someone is keeping up their interest.”
But when changes are made, Grisman embraces them as new possibilities. When Marsh re-entered the band, Grisman saw a chance to alter course. “You can’t replace a guy who’s a percussionist, a fiddler, a mandolin player and a comedian,” he said. Having the multifaceted Craven in the band “was a bit difficult – entertaining, but a bit disruptive. With George, there’s a continuous groove. If you have percussion, it’s nice to have it through the whole song.”Similarly, Grisman is not looking for Vignola to replicate Corea’s style. “I think everyone has their own unique contribution to make,” he said. “Enrique did that; all the guitarists who have been in this band do that. There are certain parts, certain lines that each player plays. Apart from that, I ask someone to be in the band because of the way they play. Not because I want them to play like Tony Rice. “I’m there to use somebody’s uniqueness, not pulverize it. The last thing I want is for the new guy to sound like the old guy. I want to go in a different direction.”
After three days of rehearsals with the new lineup, and having sat in with Vignola last week at the Djangofest in Mill Valley, Calif., Grisman is optimistic about the quintet’s future. “To be honest, I’ve never heard this stuff sound better,” he said. Of course, he knows he’ll have a hard time swaying everyone to that opinion. Some listeners have fond memories of the original DGQ that they aren’t willing to part with.”A lot of people think that after my first band, with Darol Anger and Tony Rice, everything pales compared to that. It made an impression,” he said. “But I’m better than I was then.””Friday,” he concluded, referring to tonight’s gig. “That’s the glory days.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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