Ross Hammond’s L.A. All-Stars Ride Again

Ross Hammond plays at Duende on Saturday, July 6, in trio with Phillip Greenlief and Oliver Lake.

Ross Hammond QuartetCathedrals (Prescott Recordings, 2013)

Source: Bandcamp. Click to go there.

It’s satisfying, the way Ross Hammond’s burning, blues-infused guitar co-mingles Vinny Golia’s saxophone. Maybe it’s just a natural combination of timbres, but when the two combine for unison lines on “Tricycle,” a track late on Cathedrals, it’s like two colors that become stronger next to each other, where the complements and contrasts hit the eye together. It gets even better when they swirl together in overlapping solos.

Cathedrals is Hammond’s second album with the L.A. all-star backing band of Golia (soprano and tenor sax, and flute), Steuart Liebig (bass) and Alex Cline (drums), and of course, that sax/guitar combination sound is the album’s foundation. It’s a blend worth savoring, and all four players go all-out to create their often furious free-jazz brew.

I’d mentioned a rock/psych lilt to the first album, Adored, and that’s certainly present here, maybe in something like a soul-jazz vein when it comes to the chugging guitar and free-flying flute on “Hopped Up on Adrenaline.” Hammond’s slow-sunburst guitar comes out firing as his solo takes over, and I love the way Golia’s flute fills in a few final spaces before letting the guitar fully take hold:

Sometimes, Cathedrals feels like an instrumental rock album that just happens to have free-jazz guys on it.  “This Goes With Your Leather” chugs and burns like something from the jukebox at a biker bar. Sure, it starts with unaccompanied sax improv, but Golia makes some damned convincing harmonica noises with the soprano, and that bluesy, blazing sound carries over when the band digs into a hard, fast beat. (Liebig’s band, The Mentones, used an actual harmonica to tread this territory; their albums are worth seeking out.)

“She Gets Her Wine from a Box” has a jazzy theme to it, appropriately whimsical (and excerpted below). It’s followed by jumpy solos first from Hammond, then from a caffeinated Golia.

The title track shows that you can have a free-jazz freak-out within the confines of a mellow tune. Carrying the vague feeling of a gospel song, it opens gradually, riding on warm contentment before twisting into a vicious soloing space for Cline. The others get fired up as well, but it seems as if at any given point, either Golia or Hammond is carrying on with the original, even-handed mood. They’re not exactly calm, just rooted.

It’s easy to see why Hammond wanted to revisit this band, this time with compositions written especially for them. The results are energetic and insightful, and yes, they rock. I’m hoping there’s enough headroom for another couple of albums out of this band.

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