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Two Sides of David Grisman
David Grisman Quintet
Dawg's Groove
The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience

Review By Steven Stone
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  David Grisman ranks as the most influential mandolin player of his generation. For many rock fans their first exposure to the mandolin was David's work on Working Man's Dead or through his first band, Earth Opera. Bluegrassers initially heard David when he joined Red Allen in 1966. His neighbor, Ralph Rinzler, instigated Grisman's romance with the mandolin. Rinzler was a major figure in the history of bluegrass. His band, The Greenbrier Boys, introduced a generation of urban folkies to the rural Southern musical genre. He was also responsible for revitalizing Bill Monroe's flagging career in the mid ‘60's by booking him at colleges and festivals throughout the northeast.

David Grisman may yet prove to be even more significant than Rinzler, both as a popularizer of acoustic music and as a catalyst for other great players. Grisman was the first musician to connect the dots between bluegrass and jazz to create an entire genre of music he's dubbed "Dawg Music." This synthesis of acoustic instruments and improvisational sensibilities attracted a coterie of top echelon players to his bands. Past personnel have included Tony Rice, Mike Marshall, Vassar Clements, Jerry Douglas, John Carlini, Darol Anger, Mark O'Connor, Rob Wasserman, Bela Fleck, Martin Taylor, and Todd Philips.

In 1990 David Grisman founded his own recording label, Acoustic Disc. Over the past sixteen years it's released a continuous flow of new Grisman CDs as well as a steady stream of recordings by historically important acoustic artists including Jethro Burns, Jaco Do Bandolin, Rudy Cipolla, Dave Apollon, Charles Sawtelle, and Bill Monroe. Acoustic Disc has also served as an avenue for contemporary artists, including Frank Vignola, Old School Freight Train, Mike Compton and David Long. Acoustic Disc's three Tone Poems CDs were especially fascinating to vintage acoustic instrument connoisseurs, providing high quality recordings in a controlled studio environment, so that listeners could hear the subtle differences between various instruments in the hands of great players.

Acoustic Disc's latest offerings deliver a clear picture of the breadth of David Grisman's musical mastery. Dawg's Groove – 30 Year of Dawg Music displays his jazz chops while DGBX – The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience shows that Grisman has maintained his ardor for bluegrass music. Dawg's Groove features the current incarnation of the David Grisman Quintet featuring Enrique Coria on guitar, Jim Kerwin on acoustic bass, George Marsh on drums and percussion, Matt Eakle on flute, bass flute and penny whistle, and David on mandolin. Trying to describe Dawg music succinctly taxes even this scribe's abilities. Perhaps the best solution would be to explain what it is not – it is not merely jazz lite, or cocktail jazz. It has more bite and forward motion. But it's not cutting edge hard bop or free blow either. Dawg music sits within jazz's great middle and draws inspiration from Dixieland through Latin, early Bop, and Funk. On songs such as "La Granda Guignole" there's a strong Latin influence, but on others, such as "Waltz for Lucy," a pure jazz lyricism takes over. As a whole it epitomizes the eclectic and adventurous musical spirit of "Dawg Music."

Given Grisman's wandering musical spirit, the DGBX album represents some degree of musical retrenchment. Comprised primarily of bluegrass standards such as "Reuben's Train," "Engine 143," "Say Won't You Be Mine," and "Down the Road," its musical approach is closer to his Old and in the Way releases than what you'll hear from a modern bluegrass band. The vocals are looser and the harmonies not as spot-on as most contemporary bluegrass releases. The overall feel is more old-timey than au courant. The band consists of his son Samson on bass, Keith Little on banjo, guitar and vocals, Jim Nunally on guitar and vocals, Chad Manning on bass and David on mandolin and vocals.

Any review of an Acoustic Disc release without mentioning the sonics would be more than slightly remiss. Over the last sixteen years Grisman's label has built a well-deserved reputation for ultra high fidelity. Both DGBX and Dawg's Groove deliver such fine sound that you have to wonder, "How much better can it get?" All the subtleties of Grisman's mandolin tone, whether it's his new Corrado Giacomel on Dawg's Groove, or his venerable Gibson F-5 "crusher" on DGBX, come through to glorious perfection. Many modern recordings are articulate, but most suffer from an overly sterile timbre. But both these Acoustic Disc CD's manage to combine natural sound with superb definition.

The problem for consumers when an artist releases two CD's at the same time is whether to buy, one, two, or due to confusion, neither. In the case of DGBX and Dawg's Groove each album represents such a different aspect of David Grisman's musical personality that for any hardcore Grisman fan the choice will be simple – buy both. For less rabid consumers I suggest those with modernist leanings go for Dawg's Groove while those who like their acoustic music on the traditional side try out DGBX. Personally, I'm thoroughly enjoying both.




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