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WHAT: Jazz Mandolin Project

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Tralf, 622 Main St.

TICKETS: $12 to $14.50

INFO: 851-8725

The Jazz Mandolin Project is making its much anticipated return to the Tralf on Thursday, and true to form, will be bringing yet another shuffled lineup.

Since the project's maiden voyage in a Burlington, Vt., coffeehouse in 1993, explosive and unorthodox mandolin master Jamie Masefield has built and captained the imposing vehicle into the uncharted waters of the instrument with a revolving door of shipmates.

Not that anyone's been thrown overboard -- different ports have found different players, as almost everyone in the big leagues of jazz is a free agent. This near-constant turnover has allowed the project to be steered in many intriguing directions.

"It's really kept this group fresh and made it viable over time, with new players coming in with different areas of expertise," said Masefield, from his home in rural Vermont. "Everyone's got different tricks, and I'm excited that I can bring these new sounds to people."

Appearing as a quartet for its first journey into our parts in over a year-and-a-half, the group will feature two new players, as well as the return of the lone holdover, drummer Dan Weiss, from a personal pilgrimage.

"Dan's been studying classical Indian music on the tabla drum. It's really his passion in life," said Masefield. "He was studying under a guru in India and also spent some time playing in Europe . . . everyone's so happy to have him back in the fold. He has this frame drum, too, and he steps up and just mesmerizes crowds with it."

Masefield is also thrilled about the unique styles that newcomers Scott Ritchie (bass) and Michael "Mad Dog" Mavridoglou (keys and trumpet) bring to the table.

"Scott can bow like crazy," he marveled. "He's played in classical orchestras, but he also gets into real ambient sounds. And Mad Dog brings a distinct sound that I've always wanted in the fourth member of the group. The one thing JMP didn't have was an instrument that sustained -- we all had instruments that involved hitting, with short punctuated sounds."

The band's taste in covers is sure to get a rise out of the Buffalo crowd.

For years, the band's been putting its own stamp on Aram Khatchaturian's "Sabre Dance," and the avid hockey fan Masefield was ecstatic at the knowledge of song's use at Buffalo Sabres games.

"Wow, that's awesome," he exclaimed. "You know, now that I think of it, some people were requesting it when we played Thursday at the Square a while back, and I thought it was flattering that they were that familiar with our repertoire. I never made the connection! Well definitely have some fun with it at the show."

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