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And now for something totally unexpected. Something along the lines of David Grisman or Mike Marshall's bluegrass-jazz might be anticipated from a jazz mandolinist, yes? But Michael Lampert is a master of the four-string electric mandolin, a rare beast indeed. Without the added sonority of the usual double-courses of strings, Lampert's instrument sounds much closer to a high-pitched electric guitar than what is normally expected of a mandolin. That said, the music he creates with such an odd hybrid is utterly magnificent mainstream jazz with a firm grounding in the blues.
The tunes, all originals by the leader, are mostly in the standard head-solos-head format, and each member of the ensemble is given time to shine in the spotlight. Guitarist Tom Bethke is wonderfully bolstering and complementary throughout the disc, a great thing considering the real potential for clashing with the sound of Lampert's neo-mandolin. The rhythm sections are also appropriately sympathetic, and Roberto Vizcaino's percussion is a welcome addition to two of the Latin-flavored tracks.
Lampert's unit is right at home with straight-ahead bop styles, as exemplified by the up-tempo opener 'Ken's Blue Hat'. Lampert clearly admires the single-string styles of guitarists like Kenny Burrell and Charlie Byrd, and the higher pitch of his mandolin accentuates the vibrancy of that style. The title track is named for a lovely purple-flowered tree that's indigenous to California, and it accurately reflects the temperate beauty of tree and surroundings. 'Blues For Iain' is a laid-back blues that recalls 'Trouble In Mind', but with more optimism. 'Pres-Ly' indeed conveys the warm, carefree attitude of Lester Young that influenced a generation of melodic tenor players and is translated well to strings. All in all, Jacaranda is a joyful, consistently entertaining release that will appeal to fans of mainstream guitar jazz.
Track Listing: Ken?s Blue Hat; Jacaranda; Rumplestiltskin; Ballad in D-Flat; NWLA; Blues For Iain; Bahiamar; Pres-Ly; Like Jelly.
Personnel: Lampert, electric mandolins; Tom Bethke, electric and acoustic guitars; Tim Emmons (all tracks but #7), Simeon Pillich (#7), bass; Jeff Fish (#2,6,7,8), Thomas White (#1,3,5,9), drums; Roberto Vizcaino (#2,7), percussion.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.