While Grisman has played primarily in hillbilly or jazz related combos, Statman has a background touching Klezmer and jazz as much as bluegrass. It’s not because of this that the duo wind up playing off of each other so well, but each musician’s inclinations really do seem to be brought to the fore – it’s not compositional, it’s improv which obviously relates to both jazz as well as bluegrass stylings.
Coming together in the early ‘80s, the duo go in on eight extended tracks that really don’t find a center all too readily. Mandolin Abstractions has been referred to as one of Grisman’s least memorable efforts. That point’s debatable, of course, but what is certain is the fact that amidst each one of these offerings there’re at least moments of sheer and unadulterated brilliance. Django Reinhardt’s influence is no where to be found and even if some 20th century composer might be a decent reference point, the album seems to have few proper antecedents.
Released via Rounder Records at the beginning of the ‘80s, following some of the David Grisman Quartet’s lesser efforts (I’m looking at you Quintet '80), Mandolin Abstractions easily ratchets up some of Grisman’s more forward thinking playing. The sheer concept of presenting two mandolins in a series of impromptu settings is alone worth a listen.
Beginning with “Overture,” the disc is at times short on melodic familiarity, instead working to creating settings in which both mandolins can either solo simultaneously in some sensible manner or simply launch into a fervor of notes and noise unheard in the bluegrass genre. “Journey to the Center of Twang” sports moments of noisome free improve that won’t do anything other than consternate any long time Grisman fan. But while those moments are bouncing around one’s skull, it’s easy to forget that if playing these notes/noises/progressions there’s some semblance of sanity. Unfortunately, it only comes across to listeners in that vein on occasion.
Statman and Grisman certainly don’t turn in a clunker – and the sheer intelligence exhibited on “Two White Boys Watching James Brown at the Apollo” should be enough to validate the album alone even if that disc isn’t chucked full of recognizable melodies. There’s more engaging work out there by both of these performers, it just doesn’t all have the same sort of ideological immediacy that Mandolin Abstractions possesses.