Back in 1976, mandolinist David Grisman was one of the pioneers of what would come to be called "new acoustic music," a groovy, swinging fusion of bluegrass, hot jazz, and pop played primarily by young virtuosos from California. It was a scene that gave rise to such giants as Tony Rice, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, and Mark O'Connor, and brought established artists like fiddler Vassar Clements and French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli to new prominence. But David Grisman's mandolin was the signature sound of the genre, and still is -- that's him you hear picking away between NPR news segments, and you've heard him in movie soundtracks and on hundreds of other people's records over the last twenty years. Of all the musicians who emerged from the new acoustic music scene, only Grisman had a subgenre named after him: "Dawg Music."
This three-disc set brings together live recordings, alternate takes, and previously unreleased compositions from Grisman's tape vault. It charts the changes in his quintet from the earliest days, when it nurtured the fiery talents of the young guitarist Tony Rice and fiddler Darol Anger, to its modern incarnation, which features a percussionist and flutist. Some of the titles -- "Swing '39," "Ricochet," "Rattlesnake" -- will be familiar to new acoustic music aficionados, as will Grisman's penchant for punning titles based on his nickname ("Dawgma," "Dawggy Mountain Breakdown"). Others are more obscure, some of them deservedly so, as in the case of "Shasta Bull," an ill-conceived soda jingle. But most of these 39 tracks are delightful; among them are the two numbers the DGQ performed with Stephane Grappelli on the Tonight Show in 1979, a beautiful three-mandolin arrangement of "Ricochet," and a live version of "Mondo Mando" that features Jethro Burns and the young Kronos Quartet. Highly recommended.