The Jazz Mandolin Project: Tour de Flux
This Burlington, Vermont trio sounds more like an accomplished guitar trio than the gimmick their name might suggest. Maybe that's what makes Tour de Flux, the group's second disc in their four-year history, an absolute knock-out.
Mandolin and banjo pyro-technician Jamie Masefield more or less leads the band. He's a methodic, even erudite player that careens the group through fairly unique territory. But you can still recognize the geek wackiness of Bill Frisell, the funky sophistication of John Scofield, and sometimes even the romantic sensitivity of Pat Metheny. The brew gets potent jolts throughout from Chris Dahlgren's edgy, progressive bass (reminiscent of Richard Davis's best) and special guest Phish (!) drummer John Fishman, who, like Joey Baron is especially intuitive and ready to move on to new rhythms on a dime).
The group's seven originals, mostly by Masefield plus Gil Goldstein's "The Phoenicians," are often catchy and well conceived frameworks. But what you'll remember about Tour de Flux (and why you'll want to come back to it) is the group's attention-grabbing interplay. They've created a harmonious blend that crosses serious interaction with a hip sense of humor. It swings too.
Check out the way "Barber's Hint" suggests a weird mix of "Round Midnight" and the "Inspector Gadget" theme. Or the way the brooding and brilliant "Boodha" crosses new wave with the new thing (just imagine Gabor Szabo doing "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen"). Every other moment here is worth catching but other highlights include the David Grisman-meets-Charlie Byrd hoedown of "Flux" and the lovely Metheny/Mays melodicism of "Nimbus."
A revelation like the superb Tour de Flux happens far too infrequently these days in jazz. It wows the first time. Two dozen listens later it still wows. The Jazz Mandolin Project is the wow jazz has needed for some time. A genuine treat.
Track Listing: Flux; Chapeau; Good and Plenty; Barber's Hint; Boodha; Clip; Nimbus; The Phoenicians.
Personnel: Jamie Masefield: mandolin, tenor banjo; Chris Dahlgren: double bass, imbera, music box; Jon Fishman: drums, cuica.