Over the last few years, hundreds of bands have been identifying themselves with the word “grass.” New-grass, hyper-grass, jazz-grass, groove-grass, acid grass, retro-grass—choose your descriptive prefix, get a mandolin player and suddenly you’ve developed a new breed of music. Not so fast, tiger. If you’re unfamiliar with the sounds of David Grisman and his 30 years of collaborations, give yourself a chance with the original melder of bluegrass and jazz, master David Grisman and his quintet.
Grisman has explored many different sounds since his pup days of authentic bluegrass in the 1960s and ’70s, and his list of collaborating musicians is as impressive in quality as it is in length. Bela Fleck, Bill Monroe, Stephane Grappelli, Jerry Garcia, Linda Rondstadt, Bonnie Raitt and scores of others have been honorary members of his pack over the years. Grisman has performed or produced more than 100 albums, six of them nominated for Grammys.
Quite amazing, really, since he is credited with cross-breeding a form a music that is rarely let out of the yard by contemporary music media. His blend of Latin, jazz and bluegrass has become known as “dawg” music, a name bestowed on Grisman by his friend and long-time collaborator Jerry Garcia. Sure, “dawg” doesn’t have quite the catchy ring of “newgrass,” but he’s been barking up that tree since most of us were pups, so he can call it whatever he pleases.
The influence of his style is pervasive on today’s “___-grass” music scene, and the DGQ’s insistence on using solely acoustic instruments quarantine it from the rest of the pack. With the slogan “100 Percent Handmade Music,” Grisman’s 10-year-old music label, Acoustic Disc, is set apart from bands in the DGQ litter who use electric mandolins, synthesized sounds and on-instrument pick-ups to get a sound Grisman believes to be untrue to the instrument crafter’s intent. Instead, all sounds are picked up through microphones unattached to the instrument. And since the DGQ uses mandolins dating from the early 1900s, these carefully selected instruments provide the quintet with an authentic and vintage sound.
It is this sound—elegant, tight and unique—that has listeners from a cross-section of Missoula’s communities following their noses to the University Theatre. With music transcending anything else played in the Garden City, and absolute virtuosity of all members of his pack of five, you will find yourself sitting, staying and begging for more. This is the DGQ’s third show in Missoula in as many years, and each time the amazed audience has demanded encore performances.
Sure, the feral folk in attendance will be chasing their tails in the aisles. But most of the attending pack will be sitting down and waiting for the lead dog to throw us a bone. Once you’ve witnessed his brilliance, don’t be surprised to find yourself howling for more.
The David Grisman Quintet plays the University Theatre on Monday, April 10 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $21 at the door, $23 in advance. More info at 243-2853.