David Grisman promised a nearly-full house at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Saturday night, a “comprehensive view of the wonderful world of Dawg Music.” And for two hour-long sets, that’s exactly what the crowd got.
From his work with Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, to brand new compositions showing up in the second act, Grisman left no musical stone unturned. The members of his Quintet Plus, so named because of the addition of fiddler Mike Barnett to the lineup, matched the mandolin master on all fronts for an evening of fired up acoustic instrumentals touching upon just about every genre imaginable, from jazz to bluegrass to Latin — which is what Dawg Music is about, after all.
While Grisman may have been the leader of this rowdy bunch of musicians, it was immediately apparent from the first notes that rang from the stage that this was a band of equals. Stand-up bassist James Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, drummer George Marsh, guitarist Grant Gordy and the aforementioned Barnett each brought their own flavor to this eclectic mix.
“Minor Swing,” a song written by Stephane Grappelli, was easily the highlight of the first set. Gordy especially shone through on this number, with his intricate, jazzy fretwork barely contained by the rhythm section during his solo. Grisman announced prior to this piece that he hadn’t played it in a while; it certainly didn’t show.
Eakle may have earned the prize for most intense musician onstage with his searing solo on “Bluegrass at the Beach.” The music seemed to flow violently through his body and into the instrument, as he stomped and grimaced with each note played. His bass flute playing on the Bossa Nova “Tracy’s Tune” helped to enhance the song’s mournful atmosphere.
Barnett’s fiddle was put to good use on “The Albuquerque Turkey” and, later on, “The Horn Pipe Dream,” which featured dueling flute and violin throughout. “The Purple Grotto” was Kerwin’s chance to shine, as he put bow to bass for a rumbling solo that pierced through the song’s familiar jazz melody.
The second set focused on new material, including the only two-month old “Horn Pipe Dream” mentioned earlier, and “Corrado’s Breakdown,” an ode to Grisman’s mandolin maker. Gordy, the band’s newest member and one of its youngest, proved his worth again, this time as a songwriter on “Blues to Dawg.” This laid-back dirge gave the audience a nice breather from the mostly upbeat, swinging material the group focused on.
Another new number, “Get Slinky,” did just that, as the band moved this time into a JethroTull-esque groove, aided by Eakle’s majestic flute and more bowed bass. “Newly Wedding” brought things down to a slower Bossa Nova groove once again, before the band closed with the epic “Opus 38.” For the first time this evening, Grisman got behind the vocal mike, singing three verses before the song broke down into cacophonous noise, then built itself up again for a giddy climax.