Assuming you didn’t grab your copy of the paper and skip directly to this column — Monkey House stalker, I’m looking in your direction — you might have noticed that this week’s installment of the music section features a lengthy article on mandolin makin’ marvel Joe Cleary and his innovative approach to the instrument’s design. If you haven’t read it, I’d suggest you do before we continue. It’s really pretty good. I’ll wait . . .
Now that we’re all on the same, um, page, I’d like to take a few moments to discuss one piece of the story that didn’t make it in as originally intended: Jamie Masefield and his upcoming Club Metronome performance with his legendary local outfit, The Jazz Mandolin Project.
Due to time and space constraints, my original idea for the piece was to combine the two angles into one story: Cleary builds mandolins. Masefield plays ’em. Seems like an easy connection, right? In theory, yes. But in practice, not so much.
While having Masefield on hand lent the piece an illustrative performance aspect, trying to wedge info about JMP into the story proved forced at best. And at worst, it detracted from both sides, doing a disservice to not only Cleary and Masefield, but to you, dear reader. And I love you. Really, I do. As such, I’d like to present that missing link here. You’re welcome.
It has been more than four years since JMP’s last club performance at the then-brand-spankin’-new Higher Ground Ballroom on New Year’s Eve 2004. After years of touring with the mind-bending all-star band, Masefield realized that, as much as he was enjoying playing the club circuit, he was itching to put his considerable talents to use in a new direction.
Inspired by the grant process that enabled Cleary to build his first Due model mandolin in 2005, Masefield devised an unusually original multimedia performance based on Leo Tolstoy’s classic story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” The show incorporated elements of film, literature and, of course, music, and represented a significant artistic departure for the mandolin virtuoso. With the support of a Vermont Arts Council grant, in association with the National Endowment for the Arts, Masefield was able to tour the show at performance spaces and art festivals around the Northeast, garnering widespread critical acclaim. And that, folks, is your tax dollars at work. Pretty neat, right?
Flash to the present and Masefield is again feeling that familiar itch. But this time, he’s decided to “get the band back together” and return to his roots for JMP’s first local club date in almost half a decade.
“It feels great,” he says of playing with JMP after such an extended layoff. “But it’s also a little scary. Generally, in the past we’d go out for two and a half weeks straight and the show would be really polished. And right now it feels a little dusty. But once you get onstage and you get going, I’m surprised at how comfortable it feels.”
If you attend this Friday’s show, you might notice a familiar face manning the drum kit: Jon Fishman, who, in case you hadn’t heard, is in the midst of another notable reunion at the moment. Phish’s skins man has been with JMP on and off since 1998, and has played more JMP shows than any other drummer. This show will be the first time he and Masefield have played together since that NYE show in 2004.
Also of note is the addition of renowned multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum to the JMP lineup. Apfelbaum worked on Masefield’s Tolstoy show, and though the rest of his resume is far too lengthy to delve into here, it includes collaborations with folks such as Trey Anastasio, Don Cherry, Charlie Hunter and Levon Helm. I’ll go out on a limb and say he’s probably pretty good. I’ll even go a step further and suggest that missing this show might be the silliest thing you could do all week.
Mention the name “Grace” to the average Vermont music fan and it’s likely only one local singer springs to mind. While that’s understandable, it is also unfortunate. Because, in the words of Yoda, “There is another.” Though not as immediately recognizable as Ms. Potter, Montpelier’s Sara Grace is equally dynamic, boasting pipes that are second to none — including those of “our little Gracie.” Soulful, emotive and blessed with a sly, biting wit, Sara Grace is among central Vermont’s best-kept secrets. This Saturday, Montpelier’s Black Door Bar & Bistro welcomes the rootsy songwriter’s return to the stage with her all-star backing band, The Suits, which includes local luminaries Andy Suits (drums), Giovanni Rovetto (bass), Asa Brosius (dobro), Tom Morse (trumpet) and special guest, ace trombonist Andrew Moroz.
Congratulations once again to honky-tonk heroes The Starline Rhythm Boys. Their excellent 2008 live album Live at Charlie O’s World Famous finished the year at number two on the Freeform American Radio (FAR) charts. Their previous records, Honky Tonk Livin’ (2002) and Red’s Place (2007), both took the top prize in their respective release years. But SRB can take some solace in the fact that the band was awarded “Group of the Year” honors, and that their label, Cow Island Music, scored for “Best in Industry.”
This just in from Blues & Lasers: Bassist Bryan Dondero has left the band, citing the need for more downtime when not hopping the globe with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. In his place, B&L has tabbed Rubblebucket Orchestra bassist John Ragone, who will join the group for their four-week Thursday-night residency, beginning this week at Nectar’s. FYI: In subsequent weeks, the party will move upstairs to Club Metronome.
Count me among those who wish The Cush would hurry up and finish their next album already. Do me a favor and hassle them this Friday as they play The Monkey House with The Vacant Lots and Ryan Power. (Note: I’m just kidding about the “hassling” thing. That’s really rude. Besides, I’m told the band is working hard on 15 to 20 tracks, and that the disc will be worth the wait.)
Speaking of new albums, local rockers Workingman’s Army are celebrating the release of theirs, Beginning at the End, this Friday at Nectar’s with special guests The Villanelles and Second Agenda. Look for a CD review in next week’s issue.
Finally, there has been rampant speculation of late concerning the rumored relocation of Neko Case to the Green Mountain State. Guess what? It’s true . . . I think. As reported recently in Paste magazine and last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine — among other publications — Case has indeed purchased a renovated barn in Vermont, where she recorded her latest album. But my stalking, er, attempts to reach the singer for confirmation have yet to yield any results. I’ll keep you posted . . .
DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS