Mandolin Magazine Review of "Game's Afoot"

 

Blend the talents of acoustic jazz whiz kids John Carlini, Don Stiernberg and Pat Cloud over a mélange of cleverly twisted originals and jazzed-up string band music and you get one of the best releases I've heard in years. Carlini, in addition to being a brilliant guitarist and arranger, shows here that he's even better as a composer and bandleader. His original tunes are fresh and memorable, laying down memorable heads, then giving the soloists plenty of harmonic room to exercise their exceedingly fertile musical imaginations.

 

Known to most flatpicking guitarists as the man who introduced Tony Rice to the basics of jazz improvisation, Carlini shows again and again here why he's actually one of the most under-appreciated talents on acoustic guitar. From the lickety-split bebop lead lines on Aerborn to his delicate, dreamlike chord fragments on So It Goes, Carlini displays a love supreme for the fretboard, coaxes intimate phrases and intelligent lines out of nearly every solo and accompaniment passage.

 

No reader of Mandolin Magazine should be unfamiliar with Jazzy Notes Columnist Don Stiernberg's incomparable mandolin playing. Combining the dexterity and darting tremolo of Dave Apollon, Jethro Burns' extended sense of jazz harmony and witty improvisation and the power and vibrancy of the best progressive bluegrass mandolin players, "Big Stern" is without peer on the most complex, demanding jazz changes.

 

Whether he's dropping angular arpeggios like an abstract painter under the samba beat of Mugavero or lacing a solo through the uptown bebop of Kool Kitsch with daring, Dizzy Gillespiesque freedom, Don simply defines the epitome of modern jazz mandolin.

 

As anyone who heard his daring, utterly original banjo work on Dave Peter's masterpiece, Art in America, knows, Pat Cloud plays jazz banjo without borders or limits or clichés. At times languid and soulful, then again blisteringly fast and provocative, Cloud's banjo adds a unique sound to five of the nine tunes here that catapults Carlini's music into an exciting direction even he probably never expected.

 

The Game's Afoot! captures three of the world's most lyrical, inventive and imaginative jazz voices ever to play stringed instruments into a freeform, fun-loving session where each musician challenges and pushes the next soloist to ever higher degrees of self-expression.

 

This is a must-have for anyone who enjoys acoustic jazz, and I guarantee that any student of jazz mandolin will find plenty to work on here. Maybe Don can be coerced into transcribing more of these exquisite heads and solos in some future Mandolin Magazine columns. See Mugavero in the Fall 2003 Issue.

 

Mandolin Magazine, Winter 2003-2004