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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Urban Mandolin

Self-produced BR 1001



1. Bebop

2. Quasimodo

3. Freedom Jazz Dance

4. Bach G Minor Presto

5. I Can’t Make You Love Me

6. Teen Town

7. Bright Size Life

8. Ready and Able

9. Armando’s Rhumba

10. Bye-Ya

11. Witch Hunt

12. Segura Ele

13. God Only Knows

14. Back at the Chicken Shack

15. Some Skunk Funk

16. Rollo Interior


Chris Biesterfeldt – Mandolin

Adam Armstrong – Bass

Eric Halvorson – Drums


The mandolin is an instrument that is rarely heard in jazz, although there are such exceptions as the musicians who played it in the skiffle era, and Dave Grisman, who collaborated with Stéphane Grappelli in the 1970s. One usually associates the mandolin with folk music, but I have played alongside a mandolinist who could play excellent jazz. With his new album, Chris Biesterfeldt dispels any doubts about the mandolin’s potential in jazz. Chris performs not only jazz standards but also pop tunes and the classics.

Dizzy Gillespie’s composition Bebop opens the album with evidence of Biesterfeldt’s fast fingerwork on the mandolin, which has always struck me as a difficult instrument because of the small space allowed for the fingers in contrast with the guitar. This track also reveals the dexterity of the accompanying bassist and drummer, especially when bassist Adam Armstrong plays a solo with the mandolin strumming as accompaniment, and drummer Eric Halvorson swaps fluent fours with Chris.

Biesterfeldt begins Charlie Parker’s Quasimodo by playing in unison with the double bass. This track shows that the trio can play with relaxed swing. Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance illustrates how Chris emphasizes the rhythm with forceful strokes on the mandolin.

I mentioned above that Chris tackles the classics, and Bach’s G Minor Presto has his fingers flying over the strings. It is slightly reminiscent of Jacques Loussier’s “Play Bach” recordings: jazzing up the piece slightly while retaining its classic structure. Biesterfeldt’s sensitive handling of pop songs pervades I Can’t Make You Love Me, a tune popularized by Bonnie Raitt. Another popular song – the Beach Boys’ God Only Knows – is taken at a slow tempo which makes the most of the song’s rich harmonies.

Jaco Pastorius’ Teen Town hustles along on a railway-train rhythm from the drums. Bright Size Life is a number for which Pat Metheny is famous, and Chris gives it a floating quality in the Metheny style. Armando’s Rhumba includes a good solo on brushes from the drummer. The Brecker Brothers’ Some Skunk Funk is a tour de force, taken at a challenging fast tempo.

Most of the tracks are fairly short in comparison with many of today’s jazz performances, but the trio packs a lot into the space. Not only is Biesterfeldt a virtuoso but, with such a small group, the bass and drums get more solo space than they might otherwise, and they handle it expertly.

What Bela Fleck has done for jazz banjo. Chris Biesterfeldt is doing for jazz mandolin.

Tony Augarde

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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