Fiddler John Mailander on his second full-length release Forecast is attempting to bridge the worlds of jazz, folk and Americana music – and pretty much succeeding. The Nashville-based fiddler has played with a who’s who of Americana artists from stalwarts like Darol Anger, Peter Rowan, Tony Trischka and Col. Bruce Hampton to newer generation avatars including John Reischman and Billy Strings. On this, his second full-length leader outing, he brings together an ensemble that like him knows how to improvise within both the folk and jazz idioms.
The seven-track album features five originals and a couple of classic covers, both from the same early-70s era. Of the latter, first up is the Frank Zappa deep cut “Blessed Relief” from 1972’s The Grand Wazoo, aptly featuring the multi-talented Kai Welch on vibes and Mailander in a neat sax-violin duet with tenor player Chris Miller on this very Zappa-esque melody. Mailander and crew play it straight, which you can’t always say of Zappa.
Then comes an imaginative cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” languid and stately and nearly minimalist in approach. It’s hard to do something original with such a modern classic, but Mailander pulls it off.
But things get really interesting with the originals. The opener, “Oneida”, is a shambling slow waltz, with Mailander and Miller nimbly swapping leads on the lilting melody that builds to a soaring climax driven by the rhythm section – Bryon Larrance’s drums and Royal Masat’s bass. Guest pedal steel player Chris Lippincott provides just the right touch on the atmospheric “Cedar House,” while Jake Stargel finger-picks a sturdy acoustic folk guitar line.
The title track finishes the album, and it’s even more in the folk/Americana realm. It’s a driving Celtic-style melody with acoustic bass, guitar and traps that provides a good look at the difference between folk-style and jazz improvisational techniques. After the second chorus they switch into jazz mode with a nice bass solo from Masat and Mailander strumming the fiddle, then going into his own jazzy solo, and it all winds up the album in grand fashion.
For my money “Luminosity” is the best track, a mysterious melody set to seven beats, with ghostly pedal steel droning behind Mailander’s lead. It’s little bit of country-western, a little bit jazz, a bit of Celtic and even Balkan-inspired folk. It’d be fun to see them stretch out on this in a live setting!
Mailander is more about breaking down barriers than setting them up. I’ve heard some other attempts to blend Americana and jazz that came off more as orphan or bastard than genuine hybrid. Here he and his fellow musicians show the right way to go about it. Learn more on his website and you can preview the album on Bandcamp.
(Nine Athens, 2019)