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Published: 1999/02/15
by Lee Schiller

The Jazz Mandolin Project: Tour De Flux

Having finished a small eastern U.S. tour in late January and February 1998 with new members Chris Dahlgren and Jon Fishman, Jazz Mandolin Project founder Jamie Masefield felt he should catch the lightning while it was still fresh. So, with that thinking in mind, he booked four days of studio time in his home state of Vermont almost immediately after their appropriately named “Tour De Flux” to capture the feeling of the playful spontaneity of the past month’s concerts. The result of these sessions is this release which serves as a document to those fortunate enough to see the trio perform live as well as a record of what the group was up to for those who weren’t there.

Although this release is not as initially accessible and catchy as the JMP’s eponymous debut, the improved production and energy level more than compensates for this. The improvisational jams that were toned down on their debut release now stretch out for seven or eight minutes sans overdubbing, giving the recording an organic, live feel reminiscent of Phish, Fishman’s “other band.” With the influence of the new players, Masefield’s classical sensibilities have taken a backseat to this approach. But, ultimately, the sound on “Tour De Flux” more accurately captures the live JMP experience than their previous release.

Masefield, an extremely gifted mandolin player, is no surprise here. He plays with a combination of intensity and eloquence that belie the passion he has for the compositions and experience of musicmaking. Dahlgren’s acoustic double bass comes out deep, resonant, and pronounced as opposed to Stacey Starkweather’s electric bass work of the debut; his instrument is displayed louder in the mix so as to bring the point/counterpoint dialogue with Masefield’s mandolin to the forefront. Examples of this give and take are found on the compositions “Good And Plenty” and “Chapeau.” In addition, Dahlgren’s composition skills provide many of the highlights on these release, most notably with the aforementioned “Good And Plenty” and “Boodha”, which offer a respite from the Masefield authored works in feel and tempo. Perhaps Dahlgren’s Knitting Factory background has something to do with this. “Boodha” is definitely a departure, combining as it does elements of spirituals with a jazz mentality. Dahlgren’s bowed introduction on this tune is something longtime JMP listeners would be shocked to hear unless they caught the concerts of the past year.

Fishman provides a harder edge than his predecessor in the JMP, Gabe Jarrett, mostly due to his using a more varied and larger drum kit. But nevertheless, his drum and percussion work may come as a surprise to those familiar only with his work on Phish where he often plays a secondary role. Given the space he rarely receives, Fishman exhibits a speedy but deft knowledge of rolls, fills, and syncopation; keeping the rhythmic end interesting and steady, especially on “Barber’s Hint,” a homage to Masefield’s mentor Ernie Stires with its Ellingtonesque elements.

It is obvious that these three musicians thoroughly enjoyed their work together as they have once again embarked on a tour this winter to support this release. Obviously, this joy of playing together also permeates this recording. Pick up this release and find out.

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