Mandolins rain down on the valley’s venues
A few years ago, Aspen experienced a harmonic convergence as four of the greatest bassists – Edgar Meyer, Victor Wooten, Christian McBride and the late Ray Brown – all appeared in Aspen in a matter of days.The latest musical convergence isn’t quite as concentrated. Still, if you are a local fan of the mandolin, you’ve probably made your plans to stay put for most of the month of August. The mandolin blitz is on.
The mass of mandolins began last weekend, with an appearance by the Dave Grisman Quintet, the long-running jazz-oriented project led by mandolinist Grisman. Playing at Belly Up, the gig demonstrated both the beauty and challenges of playing pure acoustic music. Grisman is a diehard, who may have never plugged an electrical cord into a musical instrument; for all I know he has an acoustic vacuum cleaner. But the crowd responded admirably to the uncommonly quiet sound, and the instrumental quintet was able to explore the full dynamic range that is their forte. The second set was devoted largely to new material from “Dawg’s Groove,” to be released in the fall. The tunes, ranging from a gypsy-influenced number named after a 19th century Paris theater to a Celtic-derived piece, showed the customary amount of invention Grisman puts into his music.The next wave opens with Matt Flinner, who leads his trio to Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale Wednesday, Aug. 16. Flinner, who shines on mandolin in Phillips, Flinner & Grier, and has also served time on banjo in Leftover Salmon, will play a set of music written that very day.Friday, Aug. 18 brings an upvalley/downvalley, newcomer/old favorite doubleheader. Opening the night are the Infamous Stringdusters, a group of young Nashville cats who are beginning to make waves with appearances at Rockygrass and their signing with the Sugar Hill label. The sextet includes mandolinist Jesse Cobb, whose Sam Bush-inspired rhythmic sense is aid to give the band its drive. The ‘Dusters play 8:30 at Steve’s, which makes it entirely possible to catch the show, and drive upvalley in time to see Drew Emmitt at Belly Up.
Emmitt, too, is a Bush devotee, having styled himself after Bush’s New Grass Revival. But Emmitt, who lives in Crested Butte, has proved a ground-breaking player too. In Leftover Salmon, Emmitt’s electric mandolin – and guitar, fiddle and voice – was at the center of the jamming mix of rock, bluegrass, zydeco and more. Since Salmon’s break-up, Emmitt has flexed both his acoustic muscle (in last year’s “Across the Bridge”) and electric might (his current band, featuring drummer Jeff “Apt. Q-258” Sipe).The reigning boy king of pickers follows when 25-year-old mandolinist Chris Thile leads Nickel Creek to a free show in Snowmass Village’s Massive Music & Movies series, Saturday, Aug. 19. Nickel Creek is known for its transgressive approach to acoustic playing; their CDs can be highly produced, with influences of classical chamber music and modern rock. But what generally knocks out listeners is the virtuosity of Thile. For those who can’t get enough, Thile has a bluegrass-oriented solo CD, “How to Grow a Woman from the Ground,” due out Sept. 12.The mandolin run ends when Sam Bush himself closes the Snowmass Village Free Concert Series with a gig Aug. 24 on Fanny Hill. Bush, who fomented a quasi-revolution in the acoustic world with his rhythmic style, released his latest CD, “Laps in Seven,” in June.
To continue the mandolin intensive, check out “Good Morning, Friend” by Druhá Tráva, a skilled Czech string band led by mandolinist-singer Robert Krestan; “The Promised Land,” a gospel album by bluegrass greats the Del McCoury Band (Del might be the bandleader, but it is his son, mandolinist Ronnie McCoury, who drives the group); and “Stomp,” an album of old-timey, Southern tunes that features just two musicians, both mandolinists: Mike Compton and David Long.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org