Don Stiernberg Mandolin Restaurant
CD Reissue liner notes
By David McCarty
Contributing Writer, Mandolin Magazine
If the cliché "musician's musician" means anything of value, it means an artist with superb instrumental skills who subjugates their innate virtuosity to create sublime, sophisticated music. These rare individuals possess a unique knack for always supporting a melody or enhancing an arrangement instead of flaunting their well-oiled chops. And if that definition holds true, then Don Stiernberg can only be called a musician's musician's musician.
Admired by every great mandolinist of his generation and the true protégé of the legendary Jethro Burns, Big Stiern has crafted a lifelong legacy of inserting the well-turned phrase, the dramatic pause, a hummingbird-delicate tremolo or the unexpected "outside" note into solos that delight the casual listener and amaze mandolinists of every caliber. But he's so humble and down-to-earth, he'd be the last person to call such attention to himself.
So it's especially fitting that in league with David "Dawg" Grisman, one of Don's long-lost treasures, Mandolin Restaurant, has been revived, remastered and released in CD/mp3 format on the Dawg's new acoustic music website (www.acousticoasis.com). Previously available only on (gasp!) cassette, this masterful project sprang to life more than 25 years ago as Stiernberg pursued a unique opportunity to not only explore an unusually wide range of material on both acoustic and electric mandolin, but also to bring together such master musicians as Sam Bush, David Grisman and Howard Levy, as well as the best of Chicago's jazz and acoustic scene.
Named in a truly Jethroesque play on words after Don's favorite Korean restaurant in Evanston, the Mandarin House, he calls the recording project "something for everyone." And for mandolin lovers, jazz fans and others who appreciate passionately crafted music played by some of the finest acoustic musicians of their generation, that's just what it is.
Drawing on a wealth of great material, Mandolin Restaurant shows Don Stiernberg's talents as a soloist, arranger and ensemble player to brilliant effect. From the glorious mandolin family chorus on John Lewis' immortal "Django" to the upbeat, Latin-influenced jazz of Stiernberg's original "Windshield Wipers," which he calls a nod to his hero George Benson, Mandolin Restaurant truly resonates with creative energy and ingenious playing., all wrapped in lush arrangements and a solid ensemble sound.
A classic Jethro composition written for Don's parents, "Blues for Ed and Myra," has Don showing his most lyrical and impressive licks. And that tune blends effortlessly into the next, Horace Silver's bouncy "Cape Verdean Blues," almost as if they were twin movements of a single work.
Great work such as Mandolin Restaurant deserves to live on despite changes in technology and recording media. For those of us who have an original cassette stashed away, we now get the immense pleasure of seeing this timeless music remastered and reproduced and made available to anyone with a CD player or Internet access. My advice is simple: don't let that technology go to waste, sit right down at Don Stiernberg's Mandolin Restaurant and dig right in. Hope you came hungry for beautifully arranged music, well-seasoned playing and just the right amount of spicy licks. Bon appetit, music gourmets!