Okay, a jazz band from Burlington, VT, that is based around the mandolin. WHAT?! But, hey -- it works! This was not the solo to "Maggie May" or even the backing basis of "Mandolin Wind" (from which many come to know and consider the mandolin as a popular instrument). It was something exciting and different. Leader Jamie Masefield
was a pioneer. Bridging the familiar with the novel, the album opens with the upbeat "Eleanor Rigby"-laced opening track, "The Country Open," which features the deep, throbbing basslines by Stacey Starkweather
. Next comes the jazzy "Monkey Blake," which is driven by Gabriel Jarrett's "percussives." "Mandoneon" cascades from a Venetian head into a more Iberian/Latin American body with a few light down-home country strains wafting through the middle. Despite a long, repetitive break which hearkens to the conclusion, it is an interesting and enjoyable track. Together with the tribal opening for "Nozani Na," "Mandoneon" demonstrates the group's international flair and understanding of worldly music. "Ballad for Trio" is a dreamy, light sleepwalk that contrasts well with the swirling solo-sprinkled funk-jazz set "The Gourd" and the peppy "Milestones in the Sunshine," which features a vaudevillian, mandolin-as-ukulele opening and hints of Stephen Sondheim
's "Maria." Though "Lithograph" may be well-titled as a slightly askew and hurriedly ended replica of another piece, "The Opera" is similarly well-named in its lyrical mixture of various styles of music and musical interaction. Throughout the album, Masefield's techniques range from gentle picking patterns to full strumming. Starkweather
and Jarrett are likewise able to competently change from subtle backing to driving accompaniment. Of special note is Starkweather
's occasional use of effect pedals and Mellotron to shape and transform his otherwise solid and straight-ahead bass sound. Though Masefield's clean, sharp fret work may sound like Metheny
-esque guitar, and though his international flair may remind one of such popular stars as Paul Simon
, there is a refreshing brightness that sets his sound apart. It is this difference that makes this album so exciting and original. Though some of the pieces may not be considered "jazz" (despite the wide range of the genre), the entire album is undeniably catchy and fresh.