Grisman Quintet still sounds fresh, timeless
Mini-reviews of recent CD releases:David Grisman Quintet, Dawgs Groove and David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, DGBXproduced by Grisman(Acoustic Disc)Thirty years ago, mandolinist David Grisman grabbed the attention of the acoustic-music world by launching his quintet, an ensemble that played jazz with a Brazilian twist on bluegrass instruments. It was the new thing in acoustic music, and the DGQs 1977 debut album opened the door for experimental picking.In 2006, the DGQs Dawgs Groove doesnt seem so new anymore, not after New Grass Revival, Bla Fleck & the Flecktones and Nickel Creek. But it still manages to sound fresh, or better yet, timeless. The quintet continues to conquer new lands and eras; La Grande Guignole recalls early 20th century France, while Ella McDonnell takes on Celtic themes. The album closes with Blues for Vassar, a lengthy, melancholy remembrance of Grisman cohort, the late fiddler Vassar Clements. The playing is magnificent and the recording quality exceptional, a reflection of Grismans high standards.If Grisman wanted to tread new waters, the place to do it would have been in bluegrass. Though he has maintained a bluegrass combo for decades, DGBX is the recording debut of that on-and-off group. Instead, Grisman heads in the other direction. DGBX is all old-school, from the songs (by A.P. Carter, Flatt & Scruggs, Carter Stanley and the like) to the harmony vocals to the short, concise solos. About the only thing new here is Samson Grisman, Davids teenage bass-playing son. I suppose breaking new ground once was enough for Grisman.Jason Moran, Artist in Residenceproduced by Moran(Blue Note)The latest from pianist Jason Moran opens with Break Down, on which a sampled vocal repeats, Break down the barriers / Break down misunderstandings / Break down the art world. It is a straightforward, even simplistic, statement of intention for what follows a complex, ambitious construction that uses the building blocks of jazz, classical, blues, gospel and fusion. The track that follows Break Down, Milestone, also uses vocals but this time it is soprano Alicia Hall Moran, providing a concert-hall sound. The spirit of adventure runs deep here, from the rhythms (see if you can put your finger on the beat to Refraction 1 and Refraction 2) to the instruments (the scratching sound heard sporadically is pencil on paper), and the message (Artists Ought to Be Writing features a spoken-word lecture arguing that more writing about the artistic process would make art more accessible).Artist in Residence actually was born of artistic crossovers. Several tunes were commissioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and inspired by the museums permanent collection; others were commissioned for a performance piece at the Dia:Beacon museum in upstate New York.Audra McDonald, Build a Bridgeproduced by Doug Petty(Nonesuch)Any jazz-oriented female singer can take some well-selected rock tunes, reinterpret them as vocal jazz, and strike gold. So why not a musical-theater singer?One listen to Build a Bridge, on which musical-theater queen Audra McDonald tackles Neil Young, Laura Nyro, John Mayer and more, provides the definitive answer: Because, thats why! McDonalds pipes are amazing, but this rickety bridge between musical theater and rock should be burned before someone gets hurt.Jas. Mathus & Knockdown South,Old Scool Hot Wingsproduced by Jimbo Mathus and Miss Olga(219 Records)James Mathus is best-known as leader of the swing band Squirrel Nut Zippers; he also earned acclaim for collaborating on bluesman Buddy Guys outstanding 2001 CD, Sweet Tea, which Mathus produced and played on. But with Old Scool Hot Wings, the Mississippi native stakes a claim that his finest niche is as an old-timey Delta bluesman. Joined by a cast that includes North Mississippi Allstars Luther and Cody Dickinson, and adding washboards, kazoos and tubas to string instruments, Mathus shows a rare knack for tapping into that raw, otherworldly mud that produced Charlie Patton, R.L. Burnside and Fred McDowell.Jerry Garcia Band, Coliseum, Hampton, Va.; Nov. 9, 1991produced by Garcia(Jerry Garcia Estate)The only thing that seemed to give Jerry Garcia pleasure in his final years (apart from hard drugs) was keyboardist Bruce Hornsby, a part-time member of the Grateful Dead in the early 90s. When Hornsby was onstage, Garcias mood was noticeably happier.That extra lift to Garcias voice on the album-opening How Sweet It Is in fact, the overall X factor present on this full-show recording can be credited to Hornsbys one-night-only membership in the Garcia Band. The Virginia native Hornsbys electric piano isnt always a factor in the sound (and on more than one occasion, it is a likely factor in the band getting lost mid-jam). But Ill gladly sacrifice fumble-free versions for an extra rush on Jerrys guitar solos. The big payoff comes at the end of this two-CD set: Hornsby finds his place in the long, deep jam of Dont Let Go, and the band roars its way through Midnight Moonlight. And no one can fault a set list that includes such rarities as Aint No Bread in the Breadbox, Louis Armstrongs What a Wonderful World, and the Van Morrison pair, Bright Side of the Road and He Aint Give You None.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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