“A lot of writers describe this music as jazzy bluegrass and there is no bluegrass and I don't know why they write it that way,” gripes Jamie Masefield, founder and mandolinist of Jazz Mandolin Project. “Maybe it's easier to write, but that's not the way it is.”
Sure. But let's face it: until Masefield was so creatively bold as to incorporate his eight-stringed instrument into JMP's own style of progressive, post-bop groove jazz, there was virtually no mandolining in the jazz business.
Jazz Mandolin Project is an acoustic trio, so confusion with bluegrass is, unfortunately for them, slightly ostensible. And since most of us burned rubber on the way to our local record store to purchase O' Brother Where Art Thou? soundtracks, there's credence to the confusion.
Rather than rapidly flat-picking melodies like a bluegrass musician, Masefield sticks to strumming chordal improvisations-a style made famous by bop and hard bop jazz musicians. JMP isn't as “soulful” as the bop and hard bop cats. Rather, they take on the sophistication and elaborate nuances of the studio-burnished post-bop and contemporary jazz styles.
Masefield decided to use the mandolin as a jazz instrument while at college in Burlington, Vermont. He was looking for new avenues towards generational freshness. Having played banjo for several traditional New Orleans bands, he'd become bored performing for the older crowds those gigs drew.
But wait – the banjo? O' Brother? Hardly. The tenor banjo, which Jamie learned jazz on at 11, is a jazz instrument and different from the five string banjo of bluegrass, but tuned similarly to the mandolin.
“I don't come from a bluegrass background at all,” he says. “The background has been jazz from the beginning-on the tenor banjo and old styles of jazz.
“I wasn't playing for my peers at all. I really wanted to do something innovative and modern and so that's what pushed me over to the mandolin. It was at that time that I was learning more about the modern jazz guitar players-people like John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, and Mike Stern; and that sound really blew my mind and it made me wonder what I might be able to do in a similar vein on the mandolin.”
Hence the Jazz Mandolin Project, another sonic chunky monkey from the town that gave us the Gordon Stone Band and Phish.