Friday, April 11, 2003

Jazz Mandolin can't keep a crowd

Concert review

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

From the clubs up through the theaters and Riverbend and U.S. Bank Arena, the national jam-band tours usually draw big crowds to our local venues. But that doesn't mean the hippies aren't smart enough to know when to stay away.

The example of Pork Tornado leaps to mind. The band, featuring Jon Fishman on drums, is one of a handful of Phish spin-offs. But that connection didn't help the group's October show at Bogart's, which drew a teensy crowd.

Jazz Mandolin Project, the New York improvisational and jam collective of which Fishman was once a member, didn't fare much better, pulling in a couple hundred to its Thursday-night performance at the 20th Century Theatre.

And by the end of the night, after more than two hours of noodling, there were only a few dozen onlookers left in the club.

Those aficionados who speak of the magic of the jam must be referring to its alchemic ability to turn a half-filled room into a collection of empty tables.

Yes, it was over two hours. And, yes, the name Jazz Mandolin Project was fitting: Jazz - insomuch as it didn't rock; Mandolin - the instrument played by Jamie Masefield, the group's founding member; Project - as in an extensive undertaking, especially for the listener.

Masefield wired his mandolin through effects pedals and used a slide and a wah-wah to create electric guitar-like sounds. The group, on this night a trio, was rounded out by upright bassist Danton Boller and drummer and percussionist Dan Weiss.

To the unconditioned ear, the endless set may have sounded like one long jam. But careful listening revealed quite a diverse mix of material. It went something like: fast jam; fast jam; medium-speed jam; medium-fast jam; fast jam; drum solo.

More specifically, several titles came from the band's newest record, Jungle Tango. One of the highlights of the show was the title track from 2000's Xenoblast. Masefield, playing with a slide, drew a symphonic sound out of his mandolin that soared above the rest of the bland jamming.

Opening the show was the Slip, a trio whose 85-minute set was more on the rock side of things than the Jazz Mandolin Project's, despite its jazz and Eastern-music colorings.


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