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Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2000

Buzztopia’s so-so lineup delivers improv romp

August 31, 2000

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Buzztopia proved to be somewhat of a buzzkill for those looking forward to a cold shot of down-home New Orleans funk. The evening's stellar lineup was severely diminished by the last-minute cancellation of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, though the two remaining acts on the bill worked hard to make up for it.

The Jazz Mandolin Project, led by enigmatic mandolinist Jamie Masefield, put in an eclectic set of furious folk that had the Granada crowd grooving hard. Masefield, a former member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, is a musician's musician who would probably be right at home in just about any sonic setting. Songs like "Xenoblast" and "Stockholm Smokepipe" gave the trio (Masefield, plus a bassist and drummer) ample opportunity to stretch its musical wings and soar into uncharted territory.

Best of all was an improvisational number called "Collage," which found the band asking the audience for sonic themes to explore. Concepts involving music and food were ignored while "claymation porn on a 105 degree day" was selected as the eventual winner. How on earth Masefileld and company managed to improvise a tune that perfectly fit the audience's topic is anyone's guess, but the group pulled it off masterfully with a rollicking foray into jazz outerspace.

Closing the show was legendary stand-up bassist Rob Wasserman, whose musical resume includes stints with everyone from Jerry Garcia to Lou Reed to Oingo Boingo.

Wasserman's backing group consisted of a percussionist, a DJ and a synth/keyboard player, all of whom made huge efforts to entertain and educate via envelope-pushing sonic excursions. Bringing a trunkful of traditional and non-traditional instruments, Wasserman's band proved powerful and refreshing as it tried on various musical hats. "Space Island" found the group switching instruments to delightful effect and "Feel The Bass" featured no less than a Spinal-Tapian three bass guitars elbowing for room in the low registers.

Unfortunately, Wasserman's songs, for all their innovations, began to blend together and sound a bit repetitive after awhile. The grooves were certainly skin-tight and sticky, but also somewhat redundant. None of this seemed to matter much to the small but dedicated crowd, who danced the night away, clearly enraptured by Wasserman's spicy musical soup.

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