How many musicians can be said to have invented a truly new style of music in the past, say, 25 years? Not just form a new branch of an existing style, but plant a whole new tree, from which new branches have grown as a direct result.
Whether your answer is one or a dozen (and my calculation would be closer to the former), one artist whose inclusion is indisputable is mandolinist David Grisman. Sure, he came from a bluegrass background, and the influences he incorporated into the style he launched circa 1977 (swing, modern jazz, classical, klezmer, rock, Gypsy and other world musics) are clearly in evidence, but the result is not “jazzgrass” or some such hyphenated wrinkle of what had gone before; it marked the dawning of a fresh, fully realized art form.
In a way, it’s a shame he dubbed it “Dawg” music, after his nickname, because it makes it seem slightly trivial, less of the accomplishment. But survey the acoustic string music scene before and after his Quintet’s arrival, and it’s easy to see what an enormous impact he had. And listen to the demands his music places on his bandmates, and it’s no wonder his group has been a graduate school of sorts for heavyweights such as Tony Rice, Mark O’Connor, Rob Wasserman, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, and Todd Phillips.
The guitar chair in the latest chapter of the DGQ is held down by Enrique Coria, a native Argentinean and a Grisman member since 1994. “Argentine Trio,” one of four duets David wrote to spotlight each band member, intricately interweaves his fingerstyle gut-string with Grisman’s mandolin, and on “Cha Cha Chihuahua” he takes an extended Latin jazz solo. But his darting, round-toned, steel-string flatpicking on “Slade” (definitive Dawg music) shows how well the former classical/Latin player has adapted to the DGQ.
The instrumentation and players’ backgrounds give this edition of the group a lighter, airier quality than the hard-driving Quintets of years past, but then, the Dawg (now 57) has perhaps mellowed a bit. No matter – the music is still fresh and interesting. It’s hard to imagine anything Grisman doing being anything but.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Nov. ’02 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.