What becomes a legend most? Well, if we’re talking about one of the world’s foremost purveyors of acoustic music, then the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was just what the doctor ordered for mandolin master David Grisman, who brought his quintet “plus…” to the acoustic marvel on Saturday night.
Grisman is best known for the bluegrass sounds he put together with the late Jerry Garcia in the band Old & In The Way and the documentary film “Grateful Dawg,” but bluegrass wasn’t the only thing on the menu at the Hall – not by a long shot. Grisman (who’s been doing his thing for, by his count, “40 or 50 years”) calls his repertoire “Dawg music.” That’s as good a way as any to describe what Grisman plays – mainly because there’s no other word that would be able to encompass the vast musical landscape he traverses with such ease.
The opening number of Grisman’s first set sounded like it came from Eastern Europe, not Appalachia. Matt Eckel’s flute gave “Dawg Daze” a sweet hint of jazz, while newly-arrived fiddle player Mike Barnett (aka The “Plus…”) helped Grisman conjure up Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys on “The Albuquerque Turkey.” We also traveled to Paris in the ‘50s when Grisman paid tribute to “the master of String Swing” Stephane Grappelli by doing a cool reboot of the Le Hot Club Quintet tune “Minor Swing.”
Looking like a mad scientist on holiday in his black-and-blacker-striped short sleeve shirt, Grisman’s solo lines flowed like a mountain stream, clean and effortless and as organic as they come. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t working, because everyone in the band seemed to drive (and surprise) each other through two amazing sets. Barnett is 20 years old, but his fiddle playing is a thrilling mix of skill and history; Eckel was also packing a huge bass flute, which helped him achieve textural nirvana on “Tracy’s Tune” and “Opus 38”; and guitarist Grant Gorky’s tasty “Blues for Dawg” could have come from any phase of Grisman’s five-decade career.
This was a brilliant evening without a hint of pretension, and it didn’t end with the last encore and the second standing ovation: Eckel stayed onstage for nearly 15 minutes to talk with audience members, and Grisman signed autographs and posed for pictures with all comers. No question about it, it was all good in Dawg World on Saturday night.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk