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Chris Biesterfeldt: Urban Mandolin

C. Michael Bailey By

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Bluegrass instruments like the mandolin, banjo, and fiddle have long been associated genres outside of the high lonesome. This instrumentation has also permeated the jazz and classical worlds as evidenced by the lifetimes of David Grisman, Chris Thile, Bela Fleck, Vassar Clements, Joe Venuti, Bob Wills and on and on. Mandolinist Chris Biesterfeldt places himself in a traditional jazz trio sans the piano and pushes the perimeter of mandolin-centered musical styles well beyond just jazz, though the better part of Urban Mandolin focuses on jazz and its rich and productive history..

Biesterfeldt displays broad and deep chops taking on canonical jazz like Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop," Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," Jaco Pastorius' "Teen Town," and Pat Metheny's "Bright Size Life." That covers a lot of ground and still does not address the Jimmy Smith, Chick Corea and Thelonious Monk that shows up with Wayne Shorter, Randy Brecker, and Adam Armstrong and drummer Eric Halvorson each have their turns at light speed. Gillespie's piece is a perfect tone setter for a collection that is dense with virtuosity vehicles for all instruments. Biesterfeldt takes a jazz approach with his rhythm section on Bach's Presto from The Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001. Looser and more relaxed than Chris Thile's performance on his Bach—Sonatas and Partitas (Nonesuch, 2013), Biesterfeldt obviously enjoyed recording the piece, playing with robustness and sheer joy.

And so with the Beach Boy's "God Only Knows" and Frank Zappa's "Rollo Interior." Biesterfeldt plays these pieces straight...or, as straight as he can with a mandolin. Such instrument transpositions tend to reveal aspects of compositions other than those traditionally noted. But it is the organ funk of Jimmy Smith that propels the disc with "Ready and Able" and "Back at the Chicken Shack," on which Biesterfeldt and company, relaxed and confident, reinvents the music anew with their novel instrumentation.

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.

Title: Urban Mandolin | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Self Produced


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