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The Games Afoot! by John Carlini Quartet

The Game’s Afoot, the new release by the John Carlini Quartet is a different kind of jazz album, to say the least. Carlini and his band have produced an album that combines the best elements of both jazz and bluegrass music. It’s an unlikely pairing but, surprisingly, it works out quite well. Carlini, on acoustic guitar, is joined by Don Stiernberg on mandolin, Brian Glassman on acoustic bass, Steve Holloway on drums and percussion and special guest Pat Cloud on 5-string banjo. Together they create a sound unlike anything that I’ve ever heard before. While the bluegrass ‘roots’ (no pun intended) are quite strong on this recording - and impossible to ignore especially when you’re listening to that banjo a’fiddlin’ - this really is more of a jazz album than a bluegrass album.

The CD consists of 9 tracks, all composed and arranged by Carlini. They represent quite a variety of styles. "Kool Kitsch" is the most bluegrass-sounding track on the album. I haven’t listened to much bluegrass music, but this is the track that comes closest to how I imagine traditional bluegrass to sound. "Blues El Dente" has a very 60’s ‘cool jazz’ feel to it. "Bittersweet" and "So It Goes" are both achingly beautiful ballads, with some particularly tasty mandolin playing. Either of these tracks would be quite at home on any smooth jazz station’s playlist.

"Poor Wayfaring Stranger" and "Yer Bad Self" are both blues tracks, but while the former has a heavy country undercurrent to it, the latter sounds more like something Horace Silver might have composed. The humor of the melody is undeniable, yet the structure is all blues. The album closes with a samba tune, "Mugavero", that really captures the essence of the samba tradition. This is the track on the album that strays furthest from the band’s bluegrass influences and yet does not seem out of place on this collection at all.

If you’re a fan of bluegrass music or just want to hear something a little bit different, I would highly recommend you give this disc a spin.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: John Carlini Quartet
  • CD Title: The Games Afoot!
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: FGM Records
  • Musicians: John Carlini (acoustic guitar), Don Stiernberg (mandolin), Brian Glassman(acoustic bass), Steve Holloway (drums and percussion), Pat Cloud (5-string banjo)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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