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Walking On The Moon – Matt Flinner Quartet

Compass Records 7 4351 2
With a title like Walking On the Moon conflated with a renowned
bluegrass name like Matt Flinner, the issue of incongruity surfaces. The
reggae of the Police in the arena of bluegrass, which approximates a frog in
a blender in regards to disgust, seems too unimaginative for someone like
Flinner. After all, with his past releases, Flinner has always shown the
ability to play the mandolin in a tasteful, more spacious manner with
smatterings of funk and jazz than with yee-haw and mountain love.
The album title could also lead one to believe Flinner has decided to try a
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones pursuit, the now insipid, overly exhausted
fusion of bluegrass and smooth jazz. With the lineup of electric guitar,
bass, drums and acoustic mandolin, the disc begs for inclusion into the
Flecktones’ melodically loquacious genre.
Thankfully, Flinner adhered to his musical inspirations, such as Miles Davis
and John Coltrane, and avoided such an egregious disc of seventy minutes
worth of unnecessary solo wanking. While Flinner has logically extended the
mandolin’s possibilities much like Fleck does with the banjo, he has done so
with more subtlety and musical ingenuity. Given the mandolin as the lead and
the emphasis on group interaction/improvisation, a flaccid comparison for
most would be the Jazz Mandolin Project. However, for some reason, likely
the guitar of Gawain Matthews, the album adroitly approximates a Steve
Kimock Band release, yet with a more genuine jazz slant.
The comparisons to the Jazz Mandolin Project and Steve Kimock Band likely
concerns Flinner and his quartet’s predilection towards examining space and
texture on Walking on the Moon. The melodies, while memorable, do not
truly invigorate this release; the disc’s success, like Kimock’s releases,
relies upon languid, ponderous antiphonal improvisations. When the group
performs "Cissy Strut/Caravan" or "Troubled Sleep," they do so with
intuitive interplay and relaxed examination. The restraint allows the music
to breathe, so Gawain Matthews guitar can punch and jab certain areas, or in
the case of "Cissy Strut/Caravan" Flinner can drive the jam into almost
techno territories.
A problem arises on several tracks due to the bands reliance upon
improvisation, however, which creates the aura of a self-obsessed jam
(remember the reference to the Jazz Mandolin Project?). Certain
compositions, such as "Ice Queen" – which are remarkably beautiful – appear
somewhat narrow melodically for the band’s desired excursions. When they
begin incessantly pushing, the music falls out of decent parameters,
approximating the now communicable jamband pathogen:
playingoutsidethechangesthinkingthatisjazz syndrome.
When the quartet avoids this one affliction, Walking on the Moon
becomes a rather compelling listen. Not necessarily groundbreaking, but
unlike past bluegrass/jazz releases where the instruments either sound out
of context or the performers lack the talent necessary for such a synthesis,
Flinner’s mandolin and expositions work exceptionally well. Maybe not what
the bluegrass world expected from their rising mandolinist, but those who
have closely followed Flinner’s career probably expected such a pursuit
sooner or later.

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