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JAZZ REVIEW : Mandolinist David Grisman at Coach House

February 06, 1988|DON HECKMAN

Mandolinist David Grisman may finally have found the right group for the eccentric grab bag of styles he refers to as "Dawg" music.

Appearing at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Thursday night, Grisman's quartet managed to touch on everything from flamenco and bluegrass to jazz and jigs. And they did it with style, flair and remarkable precision.

To his credit, Grisman seemed to recognize the expressive limitations of his instrument by enveloping it in the overall group sound rather than punching it up front as a solo voice. Even so, there were moments when the mandolin's unalterable plinkiness simply began to rattle the nerves.

The opening pieces, all unannounced (but apparently all from Grisman's most prominent "Dawg" music period of a few years ago), were a bit unsteady, a reflection no doubt of the musicians' difficulty in adjusting to the barn-like open stretches of the Coach House.

Guitarist Dimitri Vandellos, shifting easily in style and touch from acoustic to electric guitar, was appropriately passionate on a flamenco-like song, and cool and easy on the bossa nova and funk rhythms that followed. Grisman mostly limited himself to crisp, articulate melodic statements, playing easily off Vandellos' mellower sounding instruments.

By the time the group hit the bop classic "Good Bait," a thorough integration of sound and rhythm had taken place, and they were surging forward with the almost intuitive interaction of a classical string quartet.

Further demonstrating Grisman's refusal to be limited by stylistic labels, he sparked the group on a wild romp through a high-spirited bluegrass number, shifted into low for a moody interpretation of "Nature Boy" and capped the evening with a lovingly crafted "Jitterbug Waltz."

Providing strong and steady support for the kaleidoscopic array of music, bassist James Kerwin and drummer George Marsh served as an impeccably stylish support team.

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