Ross Hammond’s African Dance

Ross Hammond's Revival Trio. Source: Bandcamp; click to go there.When we last left Ross Hammond, he was in a psychedelic sunburst with top-notch L.A. free-jazzers.

This time, he’s taken a rootsy approach, using African music as an influence and a slow-burning blues/rock guitar sound as his paintbrush.

It starts with a stripped-down take on Afropop — a lot of that quick-clicking playing that’s familiar in African music — usually leading into a generous soloing space with a bluesy flavor.  A superficial comparison to Charlie Hunter is really tempting.

The intro to “Time to Wake Up” is a pretty good example:

Vanessa Cruz’s drumming shapes the sound with the energy and light I’ve come to associate with Afropop and African jazz. She fills the beat with tumbling clacks that don’t so much define the rhythm as outline it. I suppose that’s a common idea in jazz and in African music, but she makes it sound especially bright, as in this excerpt of “The Lion and the Bell.”

The foundational rhythm tends to be more the job of Shawn Hale, who plays acoustic bass instead of the bubbly electric bass that’s so common in Afropop. That helps define the trio on its own terms, giving its grooves more of a relaxed pace even when Hammond’s soloing goes for the gut. “All Our Dogs,” the closing track, gets into that kind of extended jam, replacing African funk with touches of cowboy hoedown in the guitar twang and a healthy, insistent pace set down by Hale.

A sucker as I am for odd time signatures, I can’t resist “Strikebreaker,” played out in a snappy 5/8, like a ball that keeps bouncing back just a little too soon. Hammond delivers a fiery solo later on.

Cruz has left California for New York, so the Revival Trio is on hiatus, as Hammond puts it. How much more the trio had to say anyway, we might never know; I have to admit, the Afropop ingredients make a lot of the tracks blend together for me on repeated listens. What I love, though, is that the band has a distinctive sound and fleshed out its concept well.

Hear the album, and read all about it, at Bandcamp. This is one instance where buying the CD, instead of the digital download might be really interesting (the Bandcamp page explains why).