Jamie Masefieldâ????s professional independence is matched by his artistic integrity, so the recent premiere of his conception of Tolstoyâ????s "How Much Land Does a Man Need" is another innovative change of direction for the leader of The Jazz Mandolin Project.
This new work of Masefieldâ????s is an ambitious project involving narration, video and a new original score to relate one of Tolstoyâ????s most famous short stories. In the course of the presentation, Masefield steers his group away from the concert stage proper and moves it in front of a movie screen to shed light on classic literature and the ethics of Leo Tolstoy, who has often received the title as "the greatest storyteller in modern history" (1828-1910).
Funded in part by a Creation Grant from the Vermont Council of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, the new JMP piece follows closely on the heels of last yearâ????s The Deep Forbidden Lake (Lenapee, 2005), itself a marked departure for Masefield in the revolving set of players under the JMP moniker. In contrast to the freewheeling improvisational bent of earlier albums like Xeno- blast (Blue Note, 2000) and the world beat rhythms of Jungle Tango (Lenapee, 2003), the latest JMP studio work is chamber music of sorts, the quiet acoustic ruminations of mandolin. piano and double bass on a diverse selection of material ranging from the works of Neil Young and Radiohead to Django Rheinhardt and Ornette Coleman.
Jamie Masefield established his roots in the Vermont music scene over a decade ago and they remain firm to this day. He formed The Jazz Mandolin Project in 1993 more as an exploratory musical concept than a band which, over time, has been comprised of varying lineups of musicians (including at various points, Jon Fishman.)
JMP has since toured regularly appearing in clubs, theaters and festivals throughout the United States and the European continent. In addition to this consistent activity, the mandolinist often performs as a duo with Smokinâ???? Grass leader Doug Perkins, has arranged limited engagements of programs of Django Reinhardtâ????s music and regularly guests on stage with musicians visiting Vermont. Masefield debuted his most recent project in Burlington Vermont's FlynnSpace.
All About Jazz: When we first talked about this interview... you had talked about how "the gears and direction" had changed for you. I wonder what you meant by thatif you were referring just to the Tolstoy presentation at FlynnSpace or was there something more going on than that?
Jamie Masefield: I was referring more to the Tolstoy thing, but it's all a part of the same [thing]. After being on the road for so long, I started thinking of different things that we could do, different things that I could learn different environments for the music. I felt that it would be positive to have some change and challenges. I also wanted to do something that had little bit of a message to it with some intellectual content. With so many things going on in the world it seems a little indulgent...[and] I'm trying to say this as politically correctly as possible...I think the general climate we perform in is a fairly indulgent environment where everyone's wanting to have a good timeand I want to have a good time too'"[but] I have really been wanting to do something that had a message that would engage people in thoughtful conversations.
AAJ: It's easy to become insular especially if you get involved in music professionally or even just on an amateur level; you find yourself slipping into a somewhat compartmentalized way of thinking. I think just in general if we don't all at one time or another make a gesture to show that we're all connected to the world around us, everyone presumes we have no connection to it whatsoever, that we're all going on in our blissfully ignorant way.
JM: Right... I found myself asking myself "What else can I do? What new things are there to accomplish?" and in asking myself those questions, I came to the Tolstoy project which has provided, no not provided, it really is the answer to a lot of the questions and challenges I posed to myself. I've learned so much by putting this thing together and it's kind of put me in a different environment that I really want to be in. Performing the premier thing at the Flynn was really nice: it was great to be at the Flynnwe did all of our rehearsing thereand to be in a really nice listening environment for people.