Jazz Mandolin Project still have it years later

By Craig Harris

Special to Reminder Publications

"How Much Land Does One Man Need?"

Multimedia Presentation featuring literature, video and live musical soundtrack by the Jazz Mandolin Project

John M. Greene Hall, 100 Elm Street, Northampton

April 27th, 7 PM

Tickets $15-$50

For further information, call 413-545-2511 or 800-999-UMASS

The mandolin is a springboard for exploration and innovation in the hands of Jamie Masefield. As leader of the Jazz Mandolin Project (JMP), Masefield has consistently expanded the potential of his eight-stringed instrument. Together with the band, he's spanned the acoustic jazz of their 1999 second album, "Tour DeFlux", featuring Jon Fishman of Phish fame, to the more electronic sounds of their first major label release, "Xenoblast", a year later. Totally improvisational, "After Dinner Jams", released in 2001, was followed by "Jungle Tango", incorporating a Latin influence, in 2003, and "Deep Forbidden Lake", featuring acoustic renditions of tunes by other composers, two years later.

With their multimedia presentation, "How Much Land Does One Man Need", featuring literature, video and live musical accompaniment, Masefield and the JMP have unveiled their most ambitious effort, yet.

"After twelve years of touring the country, with a straight-up concert," said Masefield by telephone, "I was itching to do something else and put our music in a different context."

A short, sixteen-page, tale, by Russian storyteller Leo Tolstoy, about a man's greed for land, provided Masefield with the inspiration that he sought.

"I studied environmental studies and geography at the University of Vermont," he said, "so, it really had a lot of meaning for me."

While on tour with the jazz Mandolin Project, in 2005, Masefield used a handheld video camera to shoot footage for "How Much Land Does One Man Need". "I shot landscapes and observations about land use," he said. "Then, I applied for, and received, a grant from the Vermont Arts Council of the National Endowment of the Arts and spent a whole winter learning how to edit video and putting it to use with this wonderful story."

The finished production, which debuted in April 2006, will be presented at the John M. Greene Hall in Northampton on April 27.

"It's like going to see a movie with a band set up in front of the movie screen playing a live soundtrack that's very interactive with the story and the visuals," Masefield explained. "The visuals are obviously modern visuals and you hear this wonderful Russian voice reading this short story. There are places where she finishes a chapter and the band waxes on with all this composed and improvised music."

The initial inspiration for Masefield's combining of video and music was sparked by an evening that he spent at Brattleboro, Vermont's Flint Theater. "I saw Bill Frizell, the jazz guitarist, perform a live soundtrack to Buster Keaton silent comedy movies," he recalled. "I thought that was fantastic. That was ten years ago and it stuck in my mind as such a creative idea."

Composing the music to accompany the video provided a new challenge for Masefield. "That was a very exciting experience for me," he said, "something that I looked forward to and really enjoyed. When I'm writing songs for JMP, it's more of an open slate. What kind of tune do we need? What's inspiring me right now? There's a lot of open space to pick from. But, it was really rewarding to have a very specific need for the music. This Russian peasant is starting his journey and he's got a shovel and he's walking across this prairie. He's got a big mission in mind. It was easier for my imagination to conjure something up so specific. It was a lot of fun."

While the personnel of the Jazz Mandolin Project has been extremely fluid, with numerous changes since Masefield formed the band in 1993, the current lineup brings considerable experienced and hard-earned seasoning to the mix.

"Peter Apfelbaum, who plays all kinds of woodwinds, keyboards and percussion, has played with a lot of famous jazz cats like Don Cherry and Cecil Taylor," said Masefield. "He's well known, right now, for playing with Trey Anatasio from Phish. But, he also has his own big band, the Hieroglyphics. On upright bass is Scott Richie. On drums is Shawn Dixon. They've been playing in the JMP for a number of years."