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There may be no more distinctive jazz-fusion band right now than The Jazz Mandolin Project.
There may be no more distinctive jazz-fusion band than Jazz Mandolin Project. Jamie Masefield’s use of the mandolin guarantees surprises, but even seeing him and his band in the past would not prepare you for the extended sets they delivered in the Winooski Vermont club this February night.
It’s probably appropriate that the band really took off when they used Weather Report’s “Black Market” as a launching pad to explore not just the rhythmic and melodic potential of the tune, but the command of each musician’s instrument as well. The bass of Scott Ritchie, clear and pronounced in the mix all evening, was second only to the trumpet and keyboard decorations of Mad Dog that lent a trad jazz feel to the swirling sound of the band.
Apropos then that JMP ended their first set with a romp through Sonny Rollins’ “St Thomas.” It’s interesting too that, when the quartet finished an extended excursion through the title song from their latest album Jungle Tango (Lenapee), their reading of Hendrix’ “Third Stone from the Sun” brought to mind both Miles Davis and the late guitar icon: Masefield has stopped playing the mandolin like a guitar and his rhythm work lent texture to the sound just as deftly as his fingerpicking gave it detail.
Beginning the well-deserved encore by himself, Jamie slowly but surely found his way into “Powderfinger,” from Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps album; just as he was rounding out the bittersweet angles of the melody, his bandmates silently joined him on stage and proceeded to fully depict in sound the melancholy carried by the lyrics. It was a touching moment, the likes of which only bold, freethinking musicians can create. Little wonder the clock showed nearly 1:30am when leaving Higher Ground at the end of the show: the passage of time becomes very relative when experiencing great music live.
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.