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A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
If you've been astounded by what's been going on with ukelele and other exotic formerly tightly pigeonholed instruments too often carelessly addressed, be prepared to drop your jaw once more with Chris Biesterfeldt and his mandolin. And you'll have to be content not to retrieve said jaw until the fully packed CD (16 cuts, 67 minutes) winds down 'cause this guy does NOT let up, and the trio format gives him unrestrained spotlight. Biesterfeldt's not quite the speed demon that, say, a Jake Shimabukoro is, but who the hell is? Damn few. DiMeloa, van Halen, McLaughlin, maybe a few others, though when Biesterfeldt runs through Bach G Minor Presto, Jimmy Smith's Ready and Able, and Weather Report's Teen Town, you'll be swallowing your hat. Lightning swift mando is nothing new, however, bluegrass has featured that for a century and a half—so, no, what's most impressive in this guy is the degree of control and amount of lyricism he brings to that staccato instrument.
Face it, in some ways, the mandolin is a lot like a harpsichord, stiff and unyielding above and beyond an attractive sound biased in the upper registers, but Armando's Rhumba amply displays just how rounded Chris' arsenal is, loaded with inflection, volume shifts, bursts of energy, delicacies, and God only knows what else. Urban Mandolin indeed! Biesterfeldt has taken his beloved axe down from the hills and planted it squarely in metropolitan bistros, though the Appalachian flavors are never very far away. Cats like Chris Thile will be paying close attention.
Then there's the extraction of Zappa's Rollo Interior from St. Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast, a take that'll have Frankie grinning like a monkey up in Rock Valhalla. Hell, even he hadn't thought to import mandolin…or had he? Hard to tell, the sonofabitch threw in everything else, including the kitchen sink! Regardless, though, Urban Mandolin IS jazz, just scan the panoply of titles below for assurance, but, like Bela Fleck, Bill Frisell, and others, Biesterfeldt is marrying the ever-expanding definition of the mode backwards into hallowed elder Americana styles. The result transmutes both while forging into a third.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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