San Francisco Examiner

San Francisco Examiner

Grisman: Dawn of the new dawg
By Philip Elwood

For years mandolinist David Grisman and his “dawg music” have been rankling both jazz and bluegrass traditionalists by creating distinctive blends of these two American vernacular music forms.

By combining, for instance, twangy mandolin and fiddle sounds into such a modern jazz chart as Miles Davis’ “Milestones,” Grisman offends both the bebop-and-beyond jazz school as well as the stiff-backed Bill Monroe authentic bluegrass fans.

In “Dawgalypso” (from his current hot-selling “Acousticity” Zebra LP), Grisman has amalgamated Caribbean, bluegrass, jazz and blues into a delightful, catchy sound – Billboard and other trade sheets don’t know how to categorize Grisman for their charting.

Tuesday night at the Great American Music Hall, Grisman debuted his newest dawg-music (or “jazzgrass”) ensemble – a brilliant quintet including only a couple of colleagues from earlier jazzgrass bands.  Besides Grisman’s mandolin and mandola and Jim Buchanan’s strong gutsy North Carolina fiddle, the current group also includes the brilliant Dimitri Vandellos on guitar, famed jazz percussionist George Marsh, and a versatile bassist, James Kerwin.

Although rooted in the bluegrass fiddle-mandolin lead tradition. Grisman’s current band sound (particularly with Vandellos’ classy guitar lines) is closer than ever to the 1930s music of the Django Reinhardt-Stephane Grappelli “Quintet of the Hot Club of France”.

That the septuagenarian Grappelli has often performed with Grisman’s bands in recent years and, in turn the late Reinhardt is one of Grisman’s recording idols makes this comparison even stronger.

Tuesday’s band had a less syncopated, choppy rhythmic line than had earlier Grisman groups, Instead of a constant “vertical” beat accents and all, Grisman seems now to be moving more “horizontally” – the difference, actually, between ragtime and swing.

Buchanan’s long fiddle lines are a reminder that Southern country music meant ballads before it meant bluegrass.  Vandellos’ guitar work, truly amazing, seems to combine such diverse styles as Eric Clapton’s and Doc Watson’s.

But in the long haul, it is George Marsh’s drumming which has expanded the current Grisman band’s musical horizons the most. Since dawg music implies a strong beat and plenty of instrumental rhythm it is up to Marsh to add percussion shadings – to expand the rhythmic colors. He does so with imagination, taste and immense skill.

A master musician and teacher: Marsh, with Grisman, is creating a new world of sound.

This is a magnificent band.

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