Jerry Garcia & David Grisman
The Music Box's #5 album for 1998
First Appeared at The Music Box, January 1999, Volume 6, #1
Written by John Metzger
It's really hard to go wrong with any of the releases on David Grisman's Acoustic Disc label. Not only is Grisman a phenomenal musician, but he regularly records and performs with other top-notch artists in his home recording studio. Over the years, this has, of course, included his good friend, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia.
Between 1990 and 1995, Grisman recorded a number of sessions with Garcia, and together they covered a variety of styles, including folk, jazz, and country. The duo released their stunning self-titled debut in 1991 and followed it two years later with the delightful Not for Kids Only. However, these albums only scratched the surface of the amazing volume of music Garcia and Grisman produced. Fortunately, Grisman had the wisdom and insight to record just about every second that he and Garcia spent together.
Since Garcia's untimely death in 1995, there has been an avalanche of releases that explore just about every possible angle of his career, but none display his incredible talent as well as those from Acoustic Disc. The first compilation from these recording sessions was the traditional folk album Shady Grove. This year, Grisman released the second volume So What, a collection of jazz excursions, that, despite the repetition of the tracks, is undeniably captivating. Throughout the endeavor, the duo are augmented by the rhythm section of Joe Craven and Jim Kerwin, both of whom also perform in Grisman's quintet. The chemistry among the musicians is nothing short of spectacular as they gracefully tackle the various songs on So What. There are three different versions of the Miles Davis-penned title-track, two takes each of Davis's Milestones and Milt Jackson's Bag's Groove, and a rendition of Grisman's own 16/16.
Over the course of So What's 60-minute length, Garcia and Grisman strike up a musical conversation in their own perceptive and unique manner. They each smoothly make the transition between soloing and rhythmic accompaniment, giving one another plenty of room to fashion their acrobatic musical maneuvers. The result is an immaculate disc of free-flowing, mind-blowing jazz interpretations. Garcia's immense ability to instantly adapt is perhaps best demonstrated on the version of 16/16 that is included here. This was the only time Garcia had ever played on this Grisman composition — a fact that makes this wondrous rendition all the more astounding. His lyrical performance is mesmerizing as he gently coaxes the song's melody from his guitar.
The rest of So What is equally strong and intricately beautiful, as the ensemble approaches the classic jazz standards with spontaneous, improvisational energy. The fluid interaction between Garcia and Grisman allows the virtuosos to converse effortlessly, and their like-minded approach is truly flawless. The studio chatter that is included on the alternate takes only helps make this set even more warm and inviting, and the clarity of the recording serves to enhance its intimacy. Whether one is a Deadhead or just a fan of improvisational jazz, this disc is a requirement.
So What is 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 © 1999 The Music Box