The mandolin has slowly been making its way into jazz due to irresistible crossovers that have for years been charting wayward journeys from bluegrass—and you can thank nugrass and prog-grass for a lot of that—to newer fields. Of course, cats like Chris Thile, Sam Bush, Dawg Grisman, and others have been noted for their bravura, but now a number of others are stepping into the spotlight, and the oeuvre and modes are expanding. Tom Bekeny, who's been pursuing the 'grass muse for 40 years, decided on a trio setting, though there's a marked amount of him comping chords beneath his own lead lines and then dubbing in violin for atmospherics all through Jazzolin. Regardless, he's venturing much further into trad jazz and old time fields than most and even tosses in his main axe's Russian counterpart, the bouzouki.
The old-timey segments don't last long in his work, though, before he's right back to jazzin', well shown in his arrangement of The Way You Look Tonight, starting out like a Leon Redbone version before cutting to extensive soloing with touches of Martino, Reinhardt, and the stellar six-string twanglers. The mandolin, in case ya didin't know it, boasts a fretboard of fiendishly tight fingering spaces but Bekeny breezes through speed runs in the same manner Jake Shimabukoro plies the ukelele (the uke being another of the the mando's cousins, along with the cavaquinho and other exotics) or John Abercrombie attends that piccolo guitar he favors.
Ode to Billie Joe enjoys the prime balladic spot in this collection and boasts an unusually long intro paving the way for a ton of improv. No sooner is the traditional first set of lines trotted out than Bekeny's back into fascinating fantasias, taking the song places it's never been, a synched violin retaining country airs as the mando weaves its way here, there, and everywhere. Moose the Mooche swings the way it meant to, here of course in higher register, with bassist Dan Feiszli and drummer Jon Arkin at the mandolinist's back every step of the way, as in every cut. The focus, though, is intensely on the mando, though you might want to listen closely to the intriguing use of violin in the first movement of Si Tu Savais, later assuming a much more Grapelliesque trad air with a touch of Ponty. I suspect Tom Bekeny, were he to release a violin-dominated CD, would be just as striking.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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