The concept of having three acts that tap into the eclectic blend of rock, jazz, blues and regional music bears a heavy debt to Bill Graham’s bookings at the Fillmore West in San Francisco in the late 1960s. Two of these three bands, while not able to threaten the memory of the Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane bills, bring the concept of the arty jam band to the fore; the Dirty Dozen Brass Band continues to incorporate the soul and funk of the ’60s and ’70s with the century-old New Orleans marching band tradition. For the junior Deadheads that fill the audience, it’s a collection of funky rhythms and improvisational flights suitable for twirling.
Rob Wasserman, a bassist best known for his albums “Solo,” “Duets” and “Trios” that boasted guests such as Aaron Neville, the Dead’s Bob Weir and the late jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, headlines this 23-city tour playing an electric upright bass tuned to sound more like a cross between cello and guitar. Space Island is the name of his first band and his new disc for Atlantic Records, and this unit pretty much stuck to the album’s melange of hip-hop, fusion jazz and rumbling electronics.
The Space Island compositions are often medium-tempo and murky, relying on the percussion of Carl “Butch” Small to give them some elevation and Wasserman, who is neither a dazzling technician nor an emotional player, to define the melodies. As the lead voice in this unit, it is disarming eventually — about an hour into the show — when you realize he makes very few sounds on his instrument that convey the drama of the bass.
The acoustic string bass plays a hearty role in Jamie Masefield’s trio the Jazz Mandolin Project. Danton Boller plays the instrument with a booming authority and, in tandem with drummer Marlon Browden, projects a driving spirit similar to one John Pattitucci and Dave Weckl gave Chick Corea’s bands a decade ago.
Over the charging rhythm plays Masefield, who generally strums the mandolin with a rabid hand. He picks out notes here and there, generally at the beginning of a tune, but he is not interested in venturing into the territory claimed by bluegrassers or the great David Grisman, who has more adeptly blended swing, jazz and bluegrass. While Masefield introduces a slide and electronics to vary the sonic textures, his lengthy groove-based songs cry out for another lead voice or abrupt rhythmic and melodic changes. His 55-minute show bears out what his latest Blue Note release, “Xenoblast,” suggests: This is far more “project” than it is “jazz.”
The Dirty Dozen, on the other hand, continues to embellish the brass band tradition with funk underpinnings, making them the most exciting and viscerally entertaining act on the bill. The 45-minute set picked up where their stellar 1999 effort “Buck Jump” (Mammoth) left off, despite the introduction of new players such as the hot young trombonist Samuel Williams. Currently without a record contract, DDBB touched on all the elements one hoped the other acts would delve into, even hitting a few moments of free improvisation within the steadiest of traditions.
Concert was the second date of this city tour. Groups will perform Sept. 8 and 9 at New York’s Bowery Ballroom.