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Mandolin Muse

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff Writer
The Jaybird Trio - mandolinist John Reischman, left, bassist Trisha Gagnon and guitarist Jim Nunally - performs at Main Street Bakery on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
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As an adolescent growing up in the northern California town of Ukiah, in the mid-’60s, John Reischman played guitar. He gravitated not toward the psychedelic rock that ruled San Francisco, 100 miles to the south, at the time, but to the fingerpicking and blues styles that had been popularized by the earlier folk revival.When Reischman discovered later in his teens, however, that a family friend had a mandolin, his musical world opened up. “I was curious and borrowed it. It was a different identity for myself,” said Reischman.It might be more accurate to say that, through the mandolin, Reischman found multiple identities. In a career that began in the late ’70s, Reischman helped define the new acoustic sound as an original member of the Tony Rice Unit, and played something akin to straight-up bluegrass with the San Francisco outfit Good Ol’ Persons. His long-running association with guitarist John Miller has had the duo focusing on crossing jazz with South American-influenced styles; Reischman has further explored the music of Brazil in the Southern Cross Quintet. Reischman, who has lived in Vancouver, B.C., for the past 12 years, has been a sideman for a variety of projects; an ongoing collaboration with Canadian singer-songwriter Susan Crowe resulted in the 1997 Juno-nominated “This Far From Home.” Under his own name, Reischman’s output includes his 1993 solo debut “North of the Border,” which Bluegrass Unlimited magazine called “monumental,” and 1999’s “Up in the Woods,” both of which combine bluegrass, Brazilian, old-time swing, Celtic and more. Clearly, Reischman is finding glory in the breadth of acoustic music. “There’s a lot of room for expression in there,” said the 48-year-old Reischman. “There’s such a broad spectrum [in current acoustic music], from real traditional bands to a band like Nickel Creek.”With his current combo the Jaybirds, Reischman is getting closer than ever to the bluegrass roots. Formed three years ago, the Jaybirds features the classic quintet bluegrass lineup of guitar (Jim Nunally, with whom Reischman has a long association), bass (Trisha Gagnon), five-string banjo (Nick Hornbuckle) and fiddle (Greg Spatz).In his Aspen debut, Wednesday, Oct. 22, at Main Street Bakery, Reischman will appear with a stripped-down version of the Jaybirds. But the Jaybird Trio will feature all three of the full group’s singers – Reischman, Nunally and Gagnon – giving the small combo a distinct character as a vocal group.”The Jaybirds are more of a bluegrass thing – straight-up, but our own thing,” said Reischman of his latest group, which has released two CDs: 2001’s “John Reischman and the Jaybirds,” and “Field Guide,” which was nominated for a Canadian Juno Award in the Best Roots and Traditional Album category. “It’s not covers of Flatt & Scruggs songs, but it has an old-time influence.”And [the Aspen performance] will be different from that, because it’s just the three of us, not the whole five-piece.”Though Reischman’s own name is (usually) attached to the group, he says Jaybird is far from “his” band. While Reischman chose the material at first, all the members of the Jaybirds now choose and write material. “It’s not me and a backup band,” said Reischman. Reischman claims influences on the mandolin that range from bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe to jazzer Jethro Burns to newgrass pioneer Sam Bush. But the clearest model for Reischman is another northern California picker with a wide-ranging vision for the instrument, David Grisman. “When I first heard that first Grisman quintet record, I flipped,” he said, referring to Grisman’s groundbreaking mid-’70s album that fused South American, jazz and bluegrass sounds. “I was familiar with that style beforehand, though. I saw the band, the Great American String Band with Grisman and fiddler Richard Greene, that was sort of the precursor to Grisman’s quintet. They were doing Django Reinhardt. That made me look at Django, and I flipped for that as well.”While Grisman lit the path, Reischman has long been finding his own way in the music. With the Jaybirds, Reischman is going in a direction that Grisman hasn’t ventured in a long while.”When I started out, I was more interested in progressive bluegrass,” he said. “But over the past 10 years, I’m more attracted to the traditional sound – using the traditional style to get my own sound, and not make it so modern.”[John Reischman and the Jaybird Trio appear Wednesday, Oct. 22, at 8 p.m., at the Main Street Bakery]


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