Jazz Mandolin Project, The Funk Box, Baltimore, MD- 4/9
The growing crowd at the Funk Box was becoming unruly in anticipation of Jazz Mandolin Project taking the stage. There is something in the air on Saturday nights in Baltimore; and the Funk Box happens to breed this enthusiasm among its patrons. The antsy crowd was finally placated as Jamie Masefield (mandolins) and his current lineup of Jazz Mandolin Project took to the stage: Mike "MadDog" Mavridoglou (trumpet, keys), Mark Guiliana (drums, percussion, Cajon), and Michael O'Brien (bass). A feeling of foreboding hung in the air as the rowdy audience silenced themselves (as much as drunken people can be silenced), expecting the magic to spring forth from Jamie's mandolin any second.
As he delicately coaxed sounds from his strings Masefield danced around the opening riff of "Nozani Na" on his signature mandolin, with eventually the other musicians joining in. Off of the first release, self-titled Jazz Mandolin Project, "Nozani Na" has been a hauntingly standard piece in JMP’s repertoire (FYI: Currently the re-release of Jazz Mandolin Project is available at their website and in stores featuring live tracks "Nozani Na" and "Country Open" from Bonnaroo 2004.). Next they went into the epic "Spiders" from the Xenoblast album, at points sounding as though they had slipped into intergalactic dimensions. The direction in which they took this piece struck me as an elegant start/stop jam. The next tune, "Borkum Riff," is a fairly new piece apparently centered around a tobacco-smoking device. This techno funk-ness broke through the crowd, inciting audience members to encourage the band and especially Jamie with clever phrases such as, "Bring it, Jamie!" The piece went mellow for a bit as Jamie sang a sweet solo from his mandolin strings and then picked up again into such funk that the bassist, O’Brien, began using basslines from Michael Jackson’s "Billie Jean." Upon talking with O’Brien later, this sampling technique is one he uses in hopes that the more intelligent listener can pick up on the subtleties (while for everyone else, it’s just great bass lines). He’s like a personified Simpson’s episode: the more intelligent, informed music critic remains ensconced with obscure references while the crowd that just loves to dance to something sweet is satiated. O’Brien and MadDog left the stage at this point so that Guiliana could bring out an instrument known as the Cajon originating from Peru. Jamie played with him as he used every part of his hand to make a rich percussive sound on the block-like instrument, performing their Cajon-standard, "Lojo Lima." The crowd stood mesmerized at Guiliana’s movements and the sound emanating from beneath him.
Upon finishing the song, Guiliana left the stage while O’Brien came back on to perform a Zeppelin duo with Jamie: "Going to California" and "What Is and What Should Never Be." Zeppelin covers tend to go over well with fans, and the Funk Box fans were of no exception. Jamie used a slide on his mandolin, achieving an even, somber tone in "California;" he then picked things up to make "What Is" a moveable set-closer.
"At the Pershing" opened the second set as Guiliana used some mallets for his weapons of choice. This led into an impressive bass jam and then into "Open Sesame" which led into grandiose "Proust" from the album Jungle Tango. This piece originated as a segment from a lengthy jam in recording sessions for that album, but it has stood on its own at a number of shows. This piece folded into one JMP has started playing quite recently at shows, "Maggot Brain," a Funkadelic cover. As the originating band name suggests, this tune was full of the funk. I could not help but notice at this point the type of jeans (carpenterish) Jamie was wearing: "Wild Ass." This simple jeans label was basically the theme of the night, with raucous fans and the whirlwind of segues. JMP next delved into "Cicada 17," a non-album tune that references the 17-year flight pattern of our noisy cicada friends. The musicians left the stage and came back for an encore of "Powderfinger," a Neil Young song JMP likes to perform at their shows. Indeed , JMP has just released a new album, The Deep Forbidden Lake (named for the similarly-titled song by Young). This new disc comprises all cover songs including two Neil Young tunes, Radiohead, Tom Waits, et al. Also, Jazz Mandolin Project is touring the South right now and will be playing 10,000 Lakes and Wakarusa festivals. Be forewarned: exposure to band may well cause addiction to said band.