Black Music Matters Festival

Andy Statman

Superstring Theory – 2013 (Shefa)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Andy Statman

It would seem to take a certain amount of chutzpah - and the willingness to buck commercial temptation - to release a record that's mostly instrumental and fronted almost entirely by mandolin. Yet however unorthodox Andy Statman's music might seem, the appeal is instantly apparent on initial hearing, thanks to a set of songs that blend bluegrass, klezmer, swing, traditional folk and gypsy waltzes in such an assured combination. Still, referring to this veteran player as unorthodox seems somewhat out of sync when considering his Jewish roots and the timeless traditions he frequently infuses in his music.

With the above lessons in mind, "Superstring Theory' becomes an apt banner for his latest opus, courtesy of the varied and versatile approach to mandolin - not to mention fiddle, percussion and clarinet - utilized per the dictates that each of these individual offerings demand. Vocals, courtesy of special guest Tim O'Brien, figure in the proceedings only on occasion = on a jaunty take of the popular traditional tune, Green Green Rocky Road?, in a rousing remake of Richie Valens' perennial rock standard Come On Let's Go and Statman's own stirring sing-along, Brooklyn * London * Rome - but it's the nimble plucking and all round amazing dexterity that ensures a ready accessibility. It's little wonder then that Statman is not only considered one of today's premier mandolin virtuosos, but a populist pundit to boot.

With all the above virtues in mind, it's little wonder really that the title rings true. While other albums of this sort might run the risk of being too alienating or academic, Statman and company make a point of maintaining an casual groove that even casual listeners can appreciate and embrace. It's a gem of a musical journey, and a "Theory" that in both practice and performance is ever so easy to enjoy.