Not your average string band |

Not your average string band

Andy Stonehouse
Special to the DailyCloser to Medeski, Martin and Wood than the traditional world of mandolin-based music, Jamie Masefield, right, and his Jazz Mandolin Project have set the standard for creative, adventurous tunes. The band plays tonight at 8150.

Take a moment to conjure a mental image of mandolin music and you might dream up a world of rustic porchside plinkin’ and plunkin’ – a world entirely removed from the boho bravado of Manhattan’s experimental jazz scene.

Thank musician Jamie Masefield for helping to take the straight-forward sounds of that tiny relative of the guitar and transform them into a superlative and transcendental experience.

Masefield’s Jazz Mandolin Project, appearing tonight at 8150, has helped set the standard for inventive music. And with an intriguing blend of electronic influences and jazzy explorations, Jazz Mandolin Project has earned a reputation as one of the East Coast’s most interesting post-jam conglomerations.

A quick spin of the group’s most recent CD, “Jungle Tango,” might even have you wondering just how the mandolin actually fits into the music, considering Masefield’s complex electronic renderings of the instrument. Engineered by John Siket (a veteran of work with Rage Against the Machine, Dave Matthews Band and Phish), the CD’s found a fan base that embraces everyone from skateboarders to pure jazz aficionados.

The Project’s growth as a band comes as something of a happy accident, considering that back in the early years, there was a point where Masefield was playing in five different bands. And despite providing plenty of steady work, none of the gigs offered him an opportunity to play the music he really enjoyed – jazz on the mandolin.

In 1993, Masefield decided to take matters into his own hands and create a night dedicated entirely to that concept at Burlington, Vt.’s Last Elm Cafe, a non-profit coffeehouse with an equally eclectic clientele.

“The Jazz Mandolin Project” event took off and Masefield soon began to attract a steady circuit of guest players, most notably drummer Gabe Jarrett (son of influential jazz pianist Keith Jarrett) and bassist Stacey Starkweather. Based on their success at home, the trio opted to form a legitimate ensemble and begin touring; they made their European debut in 1996 and released a self-titled debut CD the same year.

In 1997, Masefield and company took a brief break from the band, embarking on an array of side projects – Masefield and Starkweather teaming with Jon Fishman and Trey Anastasio of Phish as a band called Bad Hat, and Masefield later teaming with New York City stand-up bassist Chris Dahlgren in a variation of the original mandolin project.

Dahlgren and Masefield’s musical explorations were recorded as the Jazz Mandolin Project’s acclaimed 1999 CD “Tour de Flux,” with a heavier focus on pure jazz than the band’s debut recording.

That enhanced jazz hook – and the debut of drummer Ari Hoenig – helped land Dahlgren and Masefield a very respectable deal with venerable jazz label Blue Note Records. The trio’s 2000 Blue Note debut, “Xenoblast,” received four stars in DownBeat Magazine.

The past three years have seen a few additional lineup changes (the drum spot is now filled by Greg Gonzalez and bass duties are held down by Danton Boller) but Masefield’s acclaimed project continues to grow and expand, with tour dates from Alaska to Japan.

Jazz Mandolin Project appears tonight at 8150; doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. Call 479-0607 for more details.

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