Jerry Garcia - David Grisman - Tony Rice
The Pizza Tapes
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2000, Volume 7, #6
Written by John Metzger
Just a few seconds into The Pizza Tapes, the music stops, and Jerry Garcia declares, "I done fucked it up already." This simple statement sets the tone for the album — letting the listener know that its an intimate set that originally wasn’t intended for release. Let’s face it, however, the trio of Garcia, mandolinist David Grisman, and guitarist Tony Rice had such a phenomenal sense of musical rapport that on their worst days, they played with the type of tender beauty of which most musicians only dream.
Stolen by a pizza delivery boy — hence the title of The Pizza Tapes — the music on this latest disc has long made the rounds on the vast bootleg circuit. Reproduced here, the set is mastered with remarkably crystal-clear clarity, allowing every glorious note to sparkle and shine. The gentle interplay between mandolin and guitar flows sweet and pure on a haunting cover of Drifting Too Far from the Shore as Garcia’s craggy vocals seek salvation, and the ensuing Amazing Grace seems to suggest that he has at last found it.
Scattered between the many traditional folk songs on The Pizza Tapes are several exquisite jams — notably an airy take on George Gershwin’s Summertime and a free-floating flight through Miles Davis’ So What — as well as a mélange of between-song banter, which captures in words the mutual affinity and genuine connection among the musicians. In addition, the short snippets that separate the songs help to define the spontaneity of the project, thereby making it all the more impressive. If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall at a gathering of talented musicians — well, this is your chance. The Pizza Tapes captures all the best moments one might expect to hear at such an event.
More so, The Pizza Tapes begs the question as to which direction the next Grateful Dead album was going to head. Songs like So Many Roads and Lazy River Road captured the laid-back American folk music essence that Garcia had been pursuing throughout his career, but they also offered a more stringent return to that style, which he had clearly been revisiting via his relationship with David Grisman and Tony Rice. Even bandmate Bob Weir had delved into more roots-oriented fare with both Eternity — his blues oriented collaboration with Willie Dixon — and his acoustic pairing with bassist Rob Wasserman. The final disc of last year’s box set (So Many Roads) seemed to indicate the band was definitely heading back to its roots.
Of course, where the Grateful Dead would have ended up is anyone’s guess, but Garcia’s seemingly endless collaborations with Grisman certainly indicate that old folk tunes were once again at the forefront of his mind. Some of the guitarist’s best performances in his later years came outside of the Grateful Dead through the course of his many side projects, and none better than his work with Grisman. It’s as if he found peace of mind through performing many of these classic old songs — as if they gave him the strength to carry on with his increasingly weary life. Fortunately, Grisman had the wisdom to record as much as he did since it offers fans — both old and new — a glimpse into the very heart and soul of their broken angel.
Despite being basically a rehearsal session, The Pizza Tapes more than fulfills its promise, and it certainly holds its own against recordings that were actually intended for release (the self-titled debut, the playful Not For Kids Only, the folksy Shady Grove, and the jazz groove of So What). As such, it also offers a taste of the many flavors of music the trio of Garcia, Grisman, and Rice were fully capable of exploring. Just about anything was fair game, and they did it all amazingly well. The Pizza Tapes proves that. To be a part of this collaboration was certainly something special, but at least the world now has a chance to eavesdrop.
b>The Pizza Tapes available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box