Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Mark O'Connor, Chris Thile, Frank Vignola, Bryan Sutton, Jon Burr, Byron House -- Jam Session
Although this 71-minute CD is called Jam Session, its nine tracks were actually recorded with three different combinations of musicians at several live sets between 2000 and 2004. And, although the six musicians seem to have equal billing on the CD cover, violinist Mark O’Connor is the only musician common to all nine tunes. He is also the composer of six of them and co-writer – with Sam Bush – of another.
O’Connor started as a child prodigy on guitar and, as a young man, spent several years playing with David Grisman in his groundbreaking, genre-blending, instrumental quintet of bluegrass virtuosos who essentially created a new kind of acoustic music inspired by both jazz – particularly the hot swing of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli – and bluegrass. As a violinist, O’Connor plays classical, jazz and bluegrass at virtuosic levels. He is an amazing player and you can be sure that the musicians surrounding him on these tracks are more than up to the task of playing on these Grismanesque sessions.
Five of the tunes were recorded in 2002 and feature O’Connor with mandolinist Chris Thile (who was also a child prodigy), guitarist Bryan Sutton and bassist Byron House. There are some amazing bluegrass-based exchanges on tunes like “Granny White Special” and the traditional “Don’t let Your Deal Go Down.” But this combo also combines bluegrass with gypsy jazz on “Macedonia,” swings like Reinhardt and Grappelli on “Swingin’ on the ‘Ville” and brings a Brazilian feel to “Soft Gyrations.”
Two tracks – “Gypsy Fantastic” and “Pickles on the Elbow” – with guitarist Frank Vignola (a Reinhardt specialist) and bassist Jon Burr swing like crazy with all kinds of hot playing.
The two finale tracks combining O’Connor with Thile, Vignola, Sutton and Burr were recorded in 2004 and include “In the Cluster Blues,” a slow, intense blues jam that is riveting through 16 minutes, and “Minor Swing,” a Grappelli-Reinhardt classic that seems to start off in just-noodlin’ mode but soon catches fire.