|Variety, May 20, 1981|
David Grisman Quartet/Leo Kottke
Town Hall, N.Y.
The hour-plus set served up at the first of two Town Hall shows by the David Grisman Quartet -- the bluegrass-cum-swing, jazz and Dawg music mandolinist's latest aggregation -- was notable for offering not only a taste of the strength and potential of group's original instrumental music, but for pointing up some of its weaker elements as well.
The music is an interesting amalgam of the forms mentioned above, and whether or not it takes off is determined by the improvisational skills, individually and as an ensemble, of the players. Grisman and violinist Darol Anger produced fluid lines, impressive for technique and inventiveness, and good support. Mike Marshall on guitar- -- whose rendering on solo mandolin of Bach's Partita No. 3 was one of the set's strongest moments -- is an outstanding rhythm player, but was a bit weak on lead chores in comparison to his cohorts. Bob Wasserman on upright bass provided solid underpinnings and some fine solo work.
The warm nature of acoustic instruments leaves open a wide path for exploring the subtler textures of sound that can be coaxed from them in an ensemble situation. But, in set caught, these explorations were rarely exciting. However, when the quartet meshed the material with a balanced blend of dynamic tension and a dash of inventiveness -- as in Grisman's "Dawgology" - - the music soared and surprised.
Leo Kottke's opening set was a trifle uninspired. Rather than dazzling, he offered more sedate evidence as to why many consider him to be one of the premier acoustic guitarists in his field. A formidable bottlenecker and fingerpicker, Kottke sometimes added a touch of phase to enhance the superior sound achieved on six- and twelve-string guitars, and offered many originals, such as "Available Space" from his latest Chrysalis LP, as well as instrumentals such as John Fahey's "Last Steam Engine Train" and a bit of Doc Watson's "Doc's Guitar" at the end of a medley of like tunes.
Paul Siebel's "Louise" and the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" were among his vocal efforts, but the emphasis was on instrumentals, and Kottke knows how to use the instrument. However, he should have left the Bach Bouree, played as encore following a standing ovation, at home this trip. -- Tim
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