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
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.