David Grisman gets adventuresome
Beckman Auditorium, Pasadena, Cal., March 11, 2000
By Dan MacIntosh
PASADENA, CA - The last time David Grisman came through town, it was with traditional folk-guitarist Doc Watson. But this time around, with his eclectic quintet, he was within a completely different and more expansive musical environment.
Although Grisman has served t ime in bluegrass outfits - and some of those roots showed through in his performance - it's just impossible to stay focused upon any one style when your band also includes a guitarist from Argentina (Enrique Coria), a flute player (Matt Eakle) and a percussionist (Joe Craven).
Adding to the adventurous spirit of this evening's performance was the fact that Grisman's group, which also included longtime bassist Jim Kerwin, was performing music - sometimes for the first time - from a just recorded disc for Acoustic Disc.
Some of these selections were still untitled, but Grisman did his best to introduce them by attempting to describe their musical styles. This must have been a hard task, since so many of his songs hop madly from style to style.
Grisman certainly is living proof that the mandolin is a more versatile instrument than some might give it credit for. He's easily proved wrong his piano teacher who once warned him that the mandolin wasn't a real instrument back when he was a child, as the group began this concert with a tricky jazz number. It sounded a lot like those complicated recordings Miles Davis used to make back in the '60's.
His set included a few nods to traditional bluegrass, such as with "Twin Town," based upon the traditional fiddle tune "The 8th of January," only this time it was arranged for two mandolins.
He also pulled out a composition from his collaborative repertoire with the late Jerry Garcia, a waltz titled "Dawg's Waltz.'
But his multi-talented band mates often led the music well beyond Grisman's Southern musical roots. "Dawg-ology" had a Latin flair to it, and his duet with bassist Kerwin came off positively classical. Towards the end of the night, he performed a nameless swing tune and even a traditional Jewish melody.
From a visual standpoint, the real star of this group is percussionist Joe Craven, who, with his beret and expressive face, looks exactly like an artist's rendition of a Beatnik. He appeared to be doing a sort of pantomime as he played, rolling his eyes and using every ounce of his body language to make his points. But as an accomplished fiddler and mandolin player, Craven contributed so much more than comic relief to this show.
It all added up to a fully entertaining night, as Grisman employed his mandolin as a world music explorer, taking his instrument where no man-dolin had ever gone before.