Phil Lawrence | Mandolin Heaven

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Jazz: Gypsy Jazz Folk: Folk-Jazz Moods: Type: Acoustic
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Mandolin Heaven

by Phil Lawrence

Original acoustic instrumental music with mandolin, violin, upright bass, flute, etc., very much in the style of David Grisman, who appears as a guest on two tracks, along with the legendary violinist, David LaFlamme of It's A Beautiful Day ("White Bird")
Genre: Jazz: Gypsy Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Queen Bee
3:53 album only
2. The Purple Rose (feat. David Grisman)
5:04 album only
3. Jasper's Waltz (feat. David LaFlamme)
5:12 album only
4. Bullfrog Swing
2:37 album only
5. Crying (feat. David LaFlamme)
3:32 album only
6. Flame of Desire (feat. David LaFlamme)
3:55 album only
7. Django's Dream
4:39 album only
8. When Mandolins Weep (feat. David Grisman & David LaFlamme)
4:25 album only
9. Samba de Sonoma (feat. David LaFlamme)
3:05 album only
10. The Gecko Waltz (feat. David LaFlamme)
3:22 album only
11. Bee Samba (feat. David LaFlamme)
2:38 album only
12. Palm Swings (feat. David LaFlamme)
3:40 album only
13. Viper's Dream (Live)
3:30 album only
14. Sausalito Rag
3:17 album only
15. Christmas Meditation
4:24 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
"Mandolin Heaven" includes 14 original instrumental compositions by Phil Lawrence. The title of the CD reflects the fact that Phil is accompanied on these recordings by two of his musical heroes, David Grisman (Garcia Grisman Band, Old and in the Way, and The David Grisman Quintet) and David LaFlamme, (of It's A Beautiful Day, the Sixties San Francisco band famous for the songs "White Bird", "Hot Summer Day", and "Girl With No Eyes.") as well as several of the very best musicians in the San Francisco Bay Area. Hence, he is in artistic heaven. The music is acoustic jazz, with strong Gypsy and Latin influences, and an emphasis on melody, rich harmonies, and improvisational freedom. Phil plays mandolin, acoustic guitar, tenor banjo, and even balalaika. Many other musicians contribute their talents on guitar, bass, violin, and flute. Tempos and time signatures range from lively, joyful dances to slow meditative reflections.

The tracks alternate between energetic tempos and slow dramatic ballads. There are a few lively jazz waltzes, some straight ahead swing tunes, a couple of tunes that hearken to oldtime rags, a blues, and even a Middle Eastern style meditative improvisation to close the CD. Phil plays mandolin on all the tracks, except the last one where he plays balalaika, percussion, and keyboards. He plays guitar on eight tracks, and on the other tracks he is accompanied on guitar by Ned Boynton, Ned Ripple, and/or Almir Cortes. Jeff Martin plays the acoustic upright bass on five tracks; Eddie Guthman plays bass on all the others; Carrie Krueger has added her flute to two tunes; Richard Lohyde kicks off the CD with his violin artistry on the first track and adds his skill to two other pieces. Joe Yamamoto plays violin on "Viper's Dream", which was recorded live in KPFA Radio's studio in March of 2015. Patrick Fahey, who was the first mandolin player Phil ever met and who introduced Phil to the instrument, adds his mandolin to "Crying". David LaFlamme plays violin or viola on eight tracks; David Grisman appears on "The Purple Rose" and on "When Mandolins Weep".

Tracks 2, 8, 10, 11, & 12 were recorded and mixed at Studio E in Sebastopol, California by Jeff Martin and Jason Andrews in March 2014. These were whole band efforts with all the musicians playing live in the studio, and later revisiting their parts whenever necessary to make improvements. All the other tracks (except "Viper's Dream") were recorded by Phil in his home studio in Sebastopol between July 2015 and September 2016. These tracks were overdubbed layer by layer one at a time. Phil plays as many as five mandolins or five or six guitars on most of these numbers, which allows him to create textures and harmonies and a solid rhythmic pulse. In addition, this recording technique allows him to solo on both mandolin and guitar. (On "Sausalito Rag" Phil plays tenor banjo as well, which gives this tune an "authentic" feeling.) Eddie Guthman would then step in and add his artistry on the bass. Phil could then call on other soloists to come and take their turns adding melodies and improvisations. And that's how the tunes came together. Jeff Martin assisted with the mixes on some of these tunes ( "Jasper's Waltz" "Flame of Desire" "Samba de Sonoma"), and on others Phil decided that his own mixes were pretty good as they were. Again, Jeff Martin assisted with the mastering.

All of these compositions are available in musical notation in Phil's book "Original Compositions for Mandolin & All Other Instruments" which can be ordered on Phil's website:

Review of “Mandolin Heaven” by Joe Craven of The David Grisman Quintet and Garcia Grisman Band (February 2017 Sonoma County Folk Society Bulletin)

"In a time of breath taking, bar-raising musical virtuosity and blisteringly hot technical prowess in the world of the mandolin, it’s refreshing to engage listening experiences that are less about the wow factor and more about music that offers joyful, sensual emotionally felt journeys to different times and places with a feeling of satisfaction that finds me wanting more.

Mandolin Heaven, the new recording by Phil Lawrence, does not demand attention. It prefers to warmly and movingly invite the listener in to a world that is nostalgic, referential, accessible and original. Eastern European influences, gypsy jazz, rags, swing, ballads even Brazilian inspiration... Phil’s tastes are broad enough to not be easily classified. With one exception being a wonderful treatment of Phil and company of “Viper’s Dream” written by Fletcher Allen and with a nod to inspiration by the legendary patriarch of gypsy jazz guitar, Django Reinhardt, this is a collection of delightful, thoughtful original compositions. In addition to a very pleasant mix of instrumentals, it’s the attention to their details in Phil’s arrangements that speak of his joy for elegance in ensemble playing. When more than one instrument frequently joins in the celebration of a melody line, there’s a beautiful bloom... at times lush, at times unison or with harmonic layers and syncopated enthusiasm. As you move through the collection, the bungee jumps between lush and soulful, etherial and energetic, bouncy and beautiful... flow well from start to finish.  

As to the cast of musicians, Phil curated a lineup providing variety of interpretation to fit each piece; four guitarists, three violinists, two (additional) mandolinists and two bassists, plus Phil’s multi-instrumental prowess in guitar, banjo, balalaika and keys. Special guests include the undisputed ambassador of the mandolin moderne, David Grisman and violinist David LaFlamme, of “It’s A Beautiful Day”. All present on these tracks, championed by Phil, make fine contributions that render a heart warming team ball spirit to the recording. You can indeed feel the passion for rendering these works as the end product feels fresh and not overworked in post production.

Phil’s beloved vintage Gibson mandolin with its oval sound hole, provides an unmistakable tone. Like a reference to much of the music he plays, the tonal quality of his longtime instrument is distinctly old world reflecting how mandolins were built and sounded for hundreds of years prior to luthier Lloyd Loar in the early 1920s. Unlike the modern introduction of “F hole” mandolins (think of a violin) the sound is deep and throaty with a slightly nasal character. Yet Phil is not afraid of the high end of his fretboard; like in the art and sport of fencing, he lightly and deliciously tickles the stratosphere only to then lunge into the cellar of the register. Mandolinists like Phil and the musical genius Andy Statman, have uniquely branded their sound using these instruments in matrimony to the musical styles they so love in a sea of more commonly heard f hole modeled instruments in these modern times.

Mandolin Heaven is a fine effort by an angel of a guy who, in addition to the creation and performance of his own music, has passionately promoted the music of other artists to listeners through the years with his own radio show. This collection of tunes deserves a listen and consideration for your music collection, however that exists in this digital age. It’s music that can fit many occasions in our active, complex lives. " Joe Craven

Here are a few comments from local San Francisco area musicians regarding Phil's talents and abilities:

"I have worked with Phil Lawrence for the last six years. I can't speak too highly of his musicianship, his music, and his friendship. Phil is the consummate musician, songwriter, and someone you can always count on. Over the last couple of years I have had the pleasure of recording a number of his compositions." David LaFlamme of It's A Beautiful Day

"I've owned the music store in Petaluma, Tall Toad Music, for the past 28 years and have come to know Phil Lawrence pretty well during that time. He is not only a wonderful human being, but also a legendary musician in the in Northern California. Master mandolinist David Grisman once told me that Phil is "the second best mandolin player in Sonoma County" (deservedly reserving the number one spot for himself). Phil has performed onstage with Mr. Grisman and other top level musicians such as Mike Marshall and Chris Thile. He's played regularly in established festival bands such as It's A Beautiful Day and Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble. He has played in any number of local bands as a sideman and is a sought-after session player on their recordings. He also plays guitar at a professional level." Charles Cowles, owner, Tall Toad Music

"In my many years of professional work I have not met anyone to surpass Phil in ability, creativity, sensitivity, or command. Not only is he a consummate sideman on any number of instruments, including being an absolute virtuoso on both mandolin and guitar, but a composer of inordinate talent. I am continuously impressed by Phil's prolific outpourings displayed most recently in a published collection of his original and absolutely gorgeous music for the mandolin.

Phil Lawrence and I have worked together in a number of settings, onstage in performance and in recording studios. I have come to rely on his wonderfully generous contributions to my original work, his unerring good taste, his unflappable stage presence, and deep sensitivity. he is a brilliant musician in every sense: a great player, consummate performer, a dedicated teacher, and perhaps most notably, a tremendously talented composer." Teresa Tudury singer/songwriter



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