What do you get when you mix a mandolin with a bass and some drums? Country meets the Chili Peppers? Down home funk? The short answer is this: you get The Jazz Mandolin Project, a little get together centered around the mandolin, and sometimes the mandola, involving Jamie Masefield, Chris Dahlgren and Ari Hoenig. The long answer is a mixture of the above, but the music falls, if one has to quarantine it under one heading, in the realm of jazz.
The truth is, however, that the obvious heading of jazz—easily discernible from the label, Blue Note, a company who prides themselves on some of the greatest jazz since 1939—does not truly encompass the music on Xenoblast. The album is largely jazz, but oft times you’ll hear a little Pearl Jam jump out at you, or a little Led Zeppelin, and don’t be surprised if you hear a little funk poking out here and there. And, lest we forget, some of the mandolin picking is genuinely down home-most notably during the opening to “Shaker Hill.”
If you like your music spirited, you’re in the right place. Perhaps due to the nature of the project, perhaps not, each of the nine tracks on Xenoblast exudes energy and enthusiasm. Take, for instance, “Spiders,” one of my favorite tracks: muted mandolin laid over a jivin’ rhythm. “Spiders” bridles along, the energy seething below the surface, here and there broken loose by a spirited line or a change in the rhythm, an almost primordial urging that builds to a throttling crescendo.
And let’s not forget the surfer ditty “Hang Ten,” the last track…you’ve never heard beach tuneage done in this manner, I can promise you that. Step over clean Beach Boy guitar sounds, here comes the mandolin.
To some listeners Xenoblast might seem a little disjointed, and I think this might be a valid complaint, but I found the album entertaining and peculiar, not to mention fun. After a few listens the album seemed to meld into a more cohesive whole that it did after just one or two listens. Xenoblast manages to hold itself together with pure ingenious creativity.