After Dinner Jams – Jazz Mandolin Project
When the Jazz Mandolin Project first garnered notoriety, the band's sound
ostensibly mimicked Bill Frisell's Americana-jazz. The similarities – from
selecting a folk instrument, the mandolin – to fusion-based instrumentals
with diverse melodic elements, made Jamie Masefield's creation sound like a
obscure monster to Frisell's guitar-brandishing Dr. Frankenstein.
However, permutation has become the primary impetus within jazz and, in a
general context, music. An example can be noticed within the framework of the
jamband domain, where DJ elements – the emphatic beats
and ponderous bass lines – drive audiences into a dank dancing frenzy.
Whether the Disco Biscuits, the west coast's Government Grown, Sound Tribe
Sector 9, Club d'Elf or Medeski Martin and Wood, the influence of
electronica has inundated the scene.
After Dinner Jams, however, remains within the comforting domicile of jazz,
fusing specific, disparate elements into a sonically pleasing cohesion.
This release offers a sketch, not a complete transformation into the genre
of electronica. Pieces such as Miles Davis' syncopated "Milestones" or a "Donna Lee"-inspired "Amazing Grace" both expose a fine sense of jazz
vernacular and fluidity. Thus, After Dinner Jams, could also be
considered a milestone, a plausible pun on Masefield's part, where a
mandolin has finally been integrated within a jazz context. No longer should
Jethro Burns or Paul Glasses' swing be the limit of the mandolin's
The limits are stretched with the instillation of more melodic playing on
the album's remaining seven tracks. With the texturally rhythmic "Wilbur's
Soiree" excluded, After Dinner Jams becomes Masefield's newest
statement and evolution of the mandolin in a Western, musical context.
"Atilla the Hun," which includes Jon Fishman's piano counterpoint to
Masefield's musical ruminations, patently explores Masefield's new method of
discourse. Beginning and building with a series of arpeggios which imitate
Vivaldi's melodic arpeggios in Winter, the piece gains momentum and
suddenly becomes a techno jam. As Fishman abusively pokes the piano,
Masefield, Ari Hoenig and Danton Boller begin to add specific elements to
ensure the techno elements. The piece finally concludes with a crescendo
with some abstruse jazz phrasings by Masefield.
Given the brevity of "Atilla the Hun", the theory becomes bulwarked by the
nine minute piece Rider, which features Gil Goldenstein's Bill
Evans-like piano figures. Beginning the track with piano phrasings
reminiscent of a live Evans performance, Hoening, Masefield and Boller
rumble underneath, increasing their volume with Goldenstein's aggrandizing
tenacity. Eventually, the Evans references meld with a techno drum beat and
Masefield's rock guitar (i.e. Michael Kang) filigrees, eventually building
towards a synthesized crescendo.
What "Atilla the Hun" exemplifies and elucidates is not only the mandolin's
possibilities, but the final maturation of Masefield. The elements which he
has arduously and sedulously studied – classical, jazz and techno – have
become a solid agglomeration. Unlike bands which claim eclecticism and
merely venture into idioms, Masefield has succinctly synthesized the