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New River – David Grisman and Danny Zeitlin

Acoustic Disc 45
All titles bearing the name David Grisman gain a glance by fans of the
Grateful Dead. Despite Grisman’s virtuosity, "New River" should be the first
Grisman released album owned not for the mandolinist’s playing, but rather
the meditative piano phrasings of Denny Zeitlin. In jazz, Zeitlin has
performed extensively with Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny.
Adding to his prestige, the infamous pianist Bill Evans would typically
sprinkle his sets with Zeitlin’s originals, one of which Quiet Now
can be heard on the recent Evans release "The Paris Concert: Volume 1."
Evans choice of Zeitlin’s compositions can be attributed to the pianist’s
similarities. Both reveal a desire to compose technically excruciating
passages, which typically contain elements of classical and jazz. Another
similarity, the use of silence, outlines and conspicuously defines their
respective styles. Zeitlin and Evans’ slow compositions often contained the
finest progressions, moments where single notes whispered with cathartic
expressiveness. While the music rarely confounded listeners by typically
supplying the standard Westernized expectation for a sonic phrase, the depth
and vitality breathed into their musical creations exposed refinement,
rather than any avant desires.
Therefore, "New River" becomes an album where Zeitlin showcases his talent
for a previously unaware audience. Tracks like Brazilian Street Dance
and Moving Parts expose all of Zeitlin’s talents, and possibly others
he has rarely been able to reveal given his previous musical endeavors. On
Brazilian Street Dance, a tune with multiple rhythmic changes, as
well as movements from various sonic palates, whether South American or
European, Zeitlin shows remarkable grace and spacing. His phrasings are
full, as he adds bass tones to compliment David Grisma’ns meandering. When
Grisman sounds lost in Zeitlin’s progressions, as revealed in the blues of
Moving Parts, the pianist quickly phrases Grisman’s lines, and moves
the music forward. At times Zeitlin’s musical execution, where two different
tonal passages are being executed simultaneously, sounds remarkably similar
to Brad Mehldau’s solo musings on his "Places" (2000).
Grisman fans will find old standards Blue Midnite and Dawg
Funk given a renewed presence and vivaciousness never before heard.
Rather than the past banal presentations of both songs, which were
exclusively too fast and primarily revealed Grisman’s knowledge of the
chromatic scales, Zeitlin’s inclusion slows the songs down enormously thus
forcing Grisman to reconsider previous prevalent phrasings. Not only does
Zeitlin decrease the tempo, but also he eradicates musical excessiveness by
using fewer notes. Rather than vamping on the compositions chords Zeitlin
plays minor-based arpeggios to compliment Grisman’s soloing. By not
outwardly playing the songs’ chords, Zeitlin allows for Grisman to be heard,
and for both performers to hear how their respective performances melt into
the silence between notes.
Eventually, Zeitlin’s performances on "New River" make Grisman a far better
mandolinist. The album might not contain the aplomb of the David Grisman
Quintet’s 1977 eponymous debut, but never has Grisman sounded so eloquent or
clairvoyant. Over the years, Grisman has ventured into other musical styles,
but the Dawg rhythm and mandolin chop has remained; thus he has merely
synthesized the musical genres rather than knowing the style. "New River"‘s
departure from dawg music to straight jazz works, and arguably results in
the finest release of Grisman’s career. With Zeitlin, Grisman sounds
introspective, as he melodically interacts between the notes, resulting in
the prevalent, defining component of "New River", which merely adds another
similarity with Evans to Zeitlin’s rm

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