Mandolin master Andy Statman tends to get tucked into the bluegrass category, just as clarinet master Andy Statman tends to get labeled as klezmer. Itís that first sort of mastery weíre dealing with at the moment, and Iím here to tell you that the strictly bluegrass bottom line simply ainít so.
This is not to say he doesnít have an abundance of bluegrass in his blood. His new CD Monroe Bus is a tribute to Bill Monroe (1911-1996), another mandolin magic-maker. Monroe is rightly hailed as The Father of Bluegrass, and although the original plan for Monroe Bus was to have Statman apply his brilliance to a set of Monroe-penned instrumentals, it instead turned out to be a bakerís dozen of Statmanís own that show him to be every bit the groundbreaker and innovator that Monroe was. Itís certainly a tribute to the manís spirit, if not his actual music.
The opening title track breezily two-steps its way right into your dancing feet, with Statmanís little axe doing an equal share of dancing atop Jim Whitneyís standup bass, Larry Eagleís drums, Michael Davesí acoustic guitar and Michael Clevelandís feisty fiddle. Things chill a bit for the waltz tempo of ďReminiscenceĒ (my wife and I did some impromptu cheek-to-cheeking to that one), but then expectations get gleefully thrown under the bus as ďIce Cream on the MoonĒ goes from jazzy jam to heated hoedown and gets a boost from a choir commenting via a burst of a single note. The surprising stops along the ride continue from there. Arabic accentuations, blues testimonies, unplugged funk and variations on the bluegrass foundation all take turns in the driverís seat and all keep the coach on course.
The addition of Glenn Patscha on organ notches things higher; his tart runs and swells add muscle to many a track and frame Statmanís eloquent solos with the same sturdiness as Clevelandís bowed flair and the battened-down rhythm section that Whitney and Eagle comprise. And even when Statmanís fingers are flying at light speed, thereís a delicacy to his playing thatís as articulate as any vocals (of which there are none) could be.
Call this album bluegrass, newgrass or what have you. Just know that your grass will be greener and your outlook sunnier once you have it. -Tom Orr