When Chris Biesterfeldt set out to make the mandolin record which became Urban Mandolin, he used a small combo but outsized ambitions. Accompanied by just Adam Armstrong (acoustic bass) and Eric Halvorson (drums), he covered everyone from Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker to Jimmy Smith and Frank Zappa, with Bach and the Beach Boys happening somewhere in-between.
In doing so, Biesterfeldt proved possibilities for the mandolin well outside the usual bluegrass/folk/roots music realm, applying it to areas that few if any have thought of before. He deftly uses this wide array of material to show the mandolin’s melancholy side, funky side and even bebop side, bringing new life to old songs, whether they’ve been reinterpreted a lot, or not much at all.
Jaco Pastorius’ “Teen Town” has had its fair share of covers and understandably so; its catchy melody is constructed mostly from serpentine lead bass lines, making it uniquely appealing. Biesterfeldt, in one of his rare nods toward bluegrass on the whole record, sets the song to a train rhythm meted out by Halvorson’s brushes. However, that pulse matches the tune just as well as Pastorius’ snare drum did on the original.
Biesterfeldt spends the first part replicating those bass lines on his mandolin, the second go around he’s tracked by a real bass — Armstrong’s — and when the bridge come around, he goes off on some nifty improvising bolstered by the snappy rhythm section before bringing it home abruptly with the short and sweet coda.
Given both the imagination and chops Chris Biesterfeldt brings to songs like “Teen Town,” Urban Mandolin should be the choice mandolin album of the year and the one that has the best chance for tempting music lovers who aren’t that into the mandolin…at least, so they think.
Urban Mandolin will be self-released November 5. We don’t have a purchase link yet, but stay tuned. Go to Chris Biesterfeldt’s Facebook page for more info.