Recurring Sunrises. That’s what the sound of the Jazz Mandolin Project brings to mind. The exuberance of Jamie Masefield’s mandolin traverses colorful plains, cushioned by the rolling continuum of Greg Gonzalez’ drums and Danton Boller’s upright bass.
A steady stream of optimism flowed from the stage on Saturday, February 9, as the Jazz Mandolin Project brought their brand of world influenced, improvisational dance-jazz to the Colorado Brewery in Danbury, Conn. The crowd of fans, some from surrounding cities like Springfield, Mass., and Hartford, Conn., mingled with unsuspecting local diners.
Like his revered predecessor Bill Monroe, Masefield is redefining the role of the mandolin. But instead of inventing a new genre of music as Monroe did with Bluegrass in the 1930s, he takes the instrument back to its roots, touching upon jazz, and international folk music.
With tireless strumming, Masefield led the audience on an exotic voyage through foreign lands and ancient times. Journeying up and down the tiny neck of his vintage Gibson mandolin, he called up the gypsies of Bohemia and the harem’s of the Far East, before gliding through a place formerly unknown to the traditional instrument - electronica.
The trio played as one. With an uncanny connection the three musicians melded their sound to create a warm, swirling mass of music while holding on to the individuality of their own instrument. The constant, driving rhythm occasionally faded to highlight impressive solos by each member.
Like kaleidoscopic patterns, the exchanges between the trio flowed smoothly as each musician took his turn on the crest of the wave. When Boller glided into the lead, the deep tones of his bass grabbed the rhythm with a mysterious ferocity. Seasoning the group’s ethnic sound with modern technology, he added loops and effects to his steady, controlled, powerful playing. Boller hypnotized the audience with his ceaseless groove, and set a solid foundation for the drums and mandolin to spring from.
Gonzalez’s precision carried the groove into a jubilant, metronomic realm. His unwavering beats mingled with Boller’s lines for a heart-quickening mesh of rhythm.
The chemistry between the three was so intense that they never wanted to stop playing. The lights came on, the crowd filtered out, and the equipment started to get packed up. But Boller continued to hammer away at his upright bass. Gonzalez, armed with his drumsticks, beat on every available surface. And Masefield sat over by the merchandise table politely accepting praise from admiring fans. The strumming didn’t stop.
Fairfield County trio Raisinhill shared the bill. Their mix of contemporary jazz tunes showcased beautiful harmonic phrasing and whimsical improvisation that served as an appropriate prelude to the Jazz Mandolin Project’s vigorous instrumentation.