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Chris Biesterfeldt: Urban Mandolin (2013)

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Chris Biesterfeldt: Urban Mandolin How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

A mandolin player opening his first album as leader with Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
's mercurial "Bebop"? Wow! That takes a lot of (fill in the blank). But Chris Biesterfeldt, best known as a guitarist, and for Broadway shows at that, not only sails through those tricky changes but handily nails everything else on this impressive trio album whose other protagonists are bassist Adam Armstrong and drummer Eric Halvorson.

The mandolin, not exactly a guitar but somewhere in the neighborhood, is most closely linked to bluegrass music, which makes Biesterfeldt's decision to set aside the guitar, at least temporarily, to record exclusively on the mandolin that much more audacious. The gamble pays off, as Biesterfeldt breathes life and energy into a variety of engaging tunes from jazz standards by Gillespie, Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
Eddie Harris
1934 - 1994
saxophone
and Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
1925 - 2005
organ, Hammond B3
to lesser-known works from the jazz and pop realm and even one classical exercise, J.S. Bach's "G-Minor Presto."

Guitarists are well represented; Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
wrote the buoyant "Bright Size Life," Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa
1940 - 1993
guitar, electric
the sinuous "Rollo Interior." Smith weighs in with his well-known blues, "Back at the Chicken Shack," and flag-waving "Ready and Able," Harris with the funky "Freedom Jazz Dance." Also on the menu are Parker's "Quasimodo," Monk's "Bye-Ya," Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
's swaying "Armando's Rhumba," Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
's free-wheeling "Witch Hunt," Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
Jaco Pastorius
1951 - 1987
bass, electric
' galvanic "Teen Town" and Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
Randy Brecker
b.1945
trumpet
's aptly named "Some Skunk Funk." Biesterfeldt gives each one his unreserved focus and respect, as do Armstrong and Halvorson. Among the more obscure compositions, Benedicto Lacerda and Alfredo Vianna's lively "Segura Ele" is an especially arduous test of mandolinic virtuosity, one that Biesterfeldt passes with high marks.

While the mandolin lacks the guitar's range, elegance or subtlety, Biesterfeldt makes the most of its assets, which include unambiguous good humor and visceral appeal. This is music to which toe-tapping is compulsory, not optional. And even though Urban Mandolin is blazoned as jazz, the specter of bluegrass often tarries close at hand even as Biesterfeldt and his teammates labor earnestly to assure he remains at arm's length. Such is the nature of the mandolin, even in the capable hands of a jazz partisan such as Biesterfeldt.

Track Listing: Bebop; Quasimodo; Freedom Jazz Dance; Bach G Minor Presto; I Can’t Make You Love Me; Teen Town; Bright Size Life; Ready and Able; Armando’s Rhumba; Bye-Ya; Witch Hunt; Segura Ele; God Only Knows; Back at the Chicken Shack; Some Skunk Funk; Rollo Interior.

Personnel: Chris Biesterfeldt: mandolin; Adam Armstrong: bass; Eric Halvorson: drums.

Record Label: Self Produced


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