The Jazz Mandolin Project? Mandolin and Jazz? Jazz played by a Mandolin? Throw your preconceptions out the window and open up your ears to experience a Xenoblast through time. The Jazz Mandolin Project, who are at home at the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival or a Jamband Festival such as the Berkshire Mountain Music Fest, return with opus numero three ready to dispense their eclectic blend of jazz, classical, rock and drum n bass on the uninitiated. Did I say jazz, classical, rock and drum n bass? And a mandolin at its epicenter? Yes, it's true and entirely infectious.
Best of all, JMP has unassumingly stepped to the forefront as an entire new generation is not only being exposed to jazz, but is openly embracing it and eager to also explore its roots. This fact alone should be championed, as jazz, on a grand scale, may well be the most misunderstood art form there has ever been. That cantankerous poison is being diluted as a new crop of bands thatJAMare borrowing from jazz's greatest aspects; the improvisation, the crisp and/or disparate interplay, the odd time signatures and its adventurous nature. This legion of jambands may very well carry the very essence of this great American musical legacy into the commercial mainstream. Will the purist scoff at any such notion as the DIY crowd has already shown by turning their back on any band that actually breaks through and sells some records? I hope not as that whole reaction is pompous! The fact that the JMP has a young generation of followers willing to experience several hours of complex, yet engaging music sans vocals is exciting and inspiring.
One might be presumptuous and assume that the JMP is an acoustic jazz trio with a bluegrass feel, but you'll be in for a Xenoblast as mandolin player Jamie Masefield's approach comes from a traditional jazz background rather than bluegrass and he commands the instrument the way a lead guitarist would. Masefield, who writes the majority of the material, fell in love with the mandolin and began playing in 1993 at coffeehouses while attending University of Vermont in Burlington. Coincidentally, a then unknown band namedPhishwas in the throes of early existence and Masefield struck up a relationship with the newbies. In fact, in his down time, Phish's drummer Jon Fishman joined the Mandolin Project for a brief touring stint and can be heard on the JMP's live album Tour De Flux.
This association opened the flood gates allowing JMP to evolve exponentially over the last few years having logged hundreds of shows and, consequently, discovering a unique voice. It resonates in the confident, yet loose feel of the songs on Xenoblast that were recorded live over two days at 'The Barn' in Vermont. They represent a moment in time, as the songs will continue to stretch in the live setting as new avenues are traveled. The tracks on Xenoblast are generally lengthy improvisational forays utilizing themes ranging fromThe Beatles'Here There and Everywhere' and 'Michelle' on 'Jovan' toStravinsky's'L'histoire du Soldat,' 'The Rite of Spring' and 'The Firebird Suite' on 'Igor.' The songs often begin in one place and take a fantastical Xenoblast to another as 'Dromedary' begins with a Russian-like march intro and develops into a funk-hip-hop groove which is dominated by the percussive flair of drummer Ari Hoenig and some downright deep bass, causing my speakers to rattle and hum.
Throughout the voyage, the JMP seems to be most comfortable when they strap in and go on a long cosmic flight. One of the album's epics is 'Spiders' which logs in at nearly ten minutes and is closest in feel to aFlecktonesexcursion. The song visits all sorts of destinations as it weaves in and out of moods and patterns, effortlessly hovering in orbit. Xenoblast closes out with 'Hang Ten,' a late night spontaneous jam with bassist Chris Dahlgren switching to the electric and Phish guitaristTrey Anastasiojumping into the fray, igniting an energetic experimental ride. The Jazz Mandolin Project's repertoire is a vital addition to both jazz enthusiasts and jamband purveyors that will soon have listeners everywhere embarking on a long Xenotrip to the distant reaches of their mind.