Posts tagged ‘guitar’

Oliver Lake + Guitars

HatOLOGY is one of those labels where I occasionally like to reach in and grab something almost at random, and that’s how I came across Oliver Lake‘s Zaki (hatOLOGY, 2007).

Coincidentally, one of my pickups at New York’s Downtown Music Gallery recently was an obscure-looking Oliver Lake Quartet CD titled Virtual Reality (Total Escapism) (Gazell Productions, 1992).

Both selections came from my interest in catching up with Lake’s career, but they turn out to have something more in common. Both employ guitarists who were up-and-comers at the time, although they operate on different frequencies.

lake-zakiZaki is a 1979 live recording featuring guitarist Michael Gregory Jackson, who recorded a handful of free-jazz albums in the ’70s. The trio, completed by Pheeroan Ak Laff on drums, has a bright energy, with corners and angles spilling forth from Jackson’s guitar, frequently aggressive in a Sonny Sharrock mode.

One highlight is “5/1,” which consists mostly of a gutteral, wide-awake trio improvisation.

 
Virtual Reality is a more “inside” session, albeit with progressive leanings, featuring well known compositions by Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, and one by Rahsaan Roland Kirk that’s new to me (“Handful of Fives”).

lake-virtualThe guitarist Anthony Peterson, is described by Sam Charters in the liner notes as “one of that creative group of younger musicians who have turned Brooklyn into a new jazz center.” I like that, given that the “new jazz” vibe has kind of stuck even through 2017. Ak Laff is on drums again, with Santi Debriano on bass.

It’s a different listen, feeling pleasantly laid-back during even the most fiery and fluid of solos, and I’m enjoying it. Peterson is more in a straight-jazz pocket than Jackson was, but he’s worthy of attention. Here’s his solo on the title track, where I especially enjoy the way he starts casually spewing thickets of chords:

 
Neither Peterson nor Jackson seems to have clicked in the free-jazz world. Jackson recorded an interesting quartet album with Lake, (Wadada) Leo Smith, and David Murray called Clarity (Bija, 1977) — but in the long run, he chose to follow his pop/R&B muse. He’s still making music, posting singles to Bandcamp. Peterson recorded three albums with Lake but vanished after that.

It’s just another reminder of how many talented, compelling musicians are out there; there’s always one more deserving name that you’ve missed. And while it’s no secret that Lake is versatile, it’s still gratifying to be reminded that his career took him in so many different directions. Maybe I’ll give another listen to his big-band stuff next.

September 4, 2017 at 10:34 am Leave a comment

Sharp, Halvorson, Ribot, Cline

Elliott Sharp with Mary Halvorson & Marc Ribot — Err Guitar (Intakt, 2017)

Nels Cline, Elliott SharpOpen the Door (Public Eyesore, 2012)

errguitarIt’s like a jungle of steel strings hanging like vines, and in certain segments, you can hear trademark moments Elliott Sharp‘s knotty, clustered guitar style; Mary Halvorson‘s spidery angles and abrupt, dark bursts; and Marc Ribot‘s soaring, edgy guitar heroism.

Put them together in a largely improvised set populated mostly with acoustic guitars, and you get that jungle effect. The overall mood is dark and twisted, but the titles of the songs (and of the album itself) tell you this is a jovial meeting. Sharp and Ribot have collaborated for decades, dating back to the ’80s downtown scene, and while Halvorson is younger, she’s been established as their peer in out-jazz circles.

Sadly, their schedules didn’t allow for a full-on trio recording. As Sharp explains in the liner notes, Err Guitar consists mostly of duets.

Two tracks were planned as overdubbed trios. “Blindspot” features all three playing in a spacious, sparkling mode; it’s a Sharp-Ribot duo with conscious space left for Halvorson. The other full-trio track is “Kernel Panic,” which carries a narrative flow built around Sharp’s graphical score. The track gathers like dark clouds, creating hailstorms at times when two or three of the players decide to cut loose.

 
These are dark landscapes. “Sinistre” casts an evil shadow, with dark-skies electric defining the mood for two scrabbling acoustic guitars. “Oronym” opens with a tangle of acoustic strings speaking in tongues and builds into an electric screech almost on the verge of a drone.

Two tracks not to miss: “Wobbly” is an acoustic duo with Ribot, with playful steel sparks flying everywhere. “Shredding Light,” with Halvorson, culminates in heavenly beams that do make it seem as if they’re playing the light itself.

cline-sharpSpeaking of guitar collaborations …

Open the Door is a lost album from 1999, when Sharp brought a young Nels Cline into Studio zOaR on West 30th Street for a day of acoustic improvising. The two guitarists laid down tracks direct-to-tape, only to have two record labels go belly-up before releasing the music. Public Eyesore‘s Bryan Day is the one who finally gave the music a proper release. It includes a 2007 live track, recorded by Cline and Sharp at The Stone, possibly in support of another duo album, Duo Milano (Long Song, 2006).

The album strikes me as having more concentration on melody (albeit in sour, off-kilter tones) than Err Guitar. “Isotropes” includes a slide and some downright pretty arpeggio work to create a songlike atmosphere. “Five Tastes of Sour” is like a careful study in harmonies, with each guitarist spending time exploring chords and leaving them to linger; it’s a nine-minute improvisation in no particular hurry.

The 2007 track, “Pietraviva,” is like blues clipped up and played on fast-forward, with notes and ideas rebounding all over the room. It packs a punch, and it ends with both guitars in tight percussive mode, the kind of clackety sound that’s been a Sharp trademark. These two had a lot of fun, both in 1999 and in 2007.

 

June 5, 2017 at 11:46 pm Leave a comment

Ross Hammond’s A-List Jam

Ross HammondAdored (Prescott Recordings, 2012)

Adored shows off an exciting combination of ideas, with psychedelic rock jamming executed by one heck of a free-jazz backing band from L.A.: Vinny Golia (sax), Alex Cline (drums), and Steuart Liebig (bass).

It’s also got a nice link to the In the Flow Festival, which I’d mentioned previously. Guitarist Ross Hammond, organizer of the festival, lives in Sacramento and is responsible for Nebraska Mondays, the weekly creative-music series at Luna’s Cafe. Those activities gather musicians from the whole pan-California jazz/improv world.

On Adored, Hammond is working with some of the all-stars of the Southern California scene, producing some exciting results. Everyone here has done his share of mixing rock and jazz ideas, particularly Liebig, whose band The Mentones mixes barroom rock with prog/jazz virtuosity. (You’ll find them on the pfMentum record label.)

“Sesquipedalian” is a cosmically unfolding jam, with the guitar and sax spiraling outwards from the get-go. An improv cool-down middle stays just as active, with Golia bleating away and Liebig adding some ninja-quick electric bass riffs. Golia and Hammond similarly jam on “Maribel’s Code,” a calmer outing but not at all sedate. Over a steady foundation of drums and bass, the sax and guitar each take a turn at scribbly, intense soloing.

Maybe I’m taking the psych comparison too far, but there’s a bit of Santana in the guitar sound — the sublime, bluesy “She’s My Little Girl” being a prime example. The best moments, though, are when the band takes the idea of a psych jam and uses their talents and knowledge to stretch it further. Most of “Hands Up” is a choppy and grumbly group improvisation, with lots of different directions knitted together — and then, out of the blue, there’ll be a bashing rhythm from Cline for a moment of rocking-out bliss.

“Water Always Finds Its Way, Like the Soul” ends the album with a glorious comedown, full of lovely major-key tonalities (Wayne Peet helps out on piano) but just as much fever as some of the prior tracks.

It’s good stuff. Have a listen over at Bandcamp.

May 6, 2012 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

Amendola Approacheth

Drummer Scott Amendola is about to put out his first album leading a trio, Lift. It’s coming Oct. 19.

You can hear tracks by going to Amendola’s “Audio/Video” page. Click on “radio,” and the fixed program will start with the snappy funk of “Lima Bean” followed by the airy drum solo that opens “Lift,” the title track that sketches a peaceful twilight setting. (Then stick around for the high-strung funk of “59th Street Blues,” from Amendola’s first album.)

You can’t judge Lift by two tracks, but here goes. The surface is showing a reimagining of T.J.Kirk-type funk and a rediscovery of jazz territory. But the start to “Lift” shows there’s going to be room for some wide-open improvisation as well.

Amendola also has a love of African pop and a growing sensibility for electronics both as featured instruments and as backdrop. Those factors gave the Scott Amendola Band a broad scope. The most recent album, Believe (Cryptogramophone, 2005) does have some funk and rock elements — one track could be a Crazy Horse instrumental — but it’s also got deep, ambitious pieces like the reverent “Cesar Chavez.”

That band also benefitted from a lineup of expansive players — Jeff Parker and Nels Cline on guitars, and Jenny Scheinman on violin. Lift pares things down to a trio, with Parker and S.A.Band bassist John Shifflett. But at the same time, Amendola has broadened his scope in compositions and in performance options — his electronics play some key roles in recent Nels Cline Singers albums, The Celestial Septet and the colossal Initiate.

Amendola is taking the trio on a small CD release tour around the Bay Area and up the coast.  (Note that the itinerary includes Dana Street Roasting Co. in Mountain View — a neat local coffee house that’s willing to go out on a limb for the sake of good music. Support them!)

Sat. Oct. 23 — Blue Whale, Los Angeles
Sun. Oct. 24 — Dana St. Roasting, Mountain View, 7:30 p.m.
Mon. Oct. 25 — Yoshi’s Oakland, separate shows at 8:00 and 10:00
Tue. Oct. 26 — Earshot Jazz Festival (Cornish College of the Arts), Seattle
Wed. Oct. 27 — The Goodfoot Lounge, Portland, Ore.
Thur. Oct. 28 — Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, 7:00, or 6:00 if you want dinner beforehand

September 25, 2010 at 3:43 pm 1 comment

The Other World of Henry Kaiser

Henry KaiserWhere Endless Meets Disappearing (Balance Point Acoustics, 2009)

In addition to playing guitar, Henry Kaiser is an oceanographer — as in, serious, university-research oceanographer — and a few years ago, he got a chance to ply both trades in Antarctica.This album, a set of mostly solo guitar improvisations, is a reflection on that alien underwater world.

It’s placid and crystalline, fitting enough. Very pretty stuff — not what you’ll want if you’re looking for the Derek Bailey-influenced side of Kaiser, but even if the weird stuff is your cup of tea, this isn’t an album to miss.

The 12-minute title track opens the album and sets the mood.  Kaiser uses stereo-ized echo effects here to give the illusion of two guitars (14 of the 18 tracks are solo, undubbed).  A single bass note, plucked every now and then, serves as the center of gravity around which Kaiser contently drifts,spinning a slow web of notes. Tiny harmonics glisten like light off the water’s surface. It’s relaxing and deep, great music for Sunday morning coffee.

Kaiser calls this a concept album, and I get the feeling it’s a love letter to the beauty of diving. It definitely has that weightless feeling, as if it’s mimicking the peaceful, muted sounds beneath the ocean’s surface.

Many of the acoustic tracks take on the sound of Hawaiian slack-key guitar, not so much in the note choices but in the overall mood and prettiness.  Kaiser does turn up the electric a few times, though, for some proggy noodling.  “A Precise Kind of Infinity, a Sliver of Clarity Nestled” is mostly pretty and chiming, but the space-exploration electric guitar wail comes in for the second half, for the feel of peering into the infinite. “A Bloom of Tiny Suns” ends the album with criss-crossing electric guitars spiraling outward like a slow-motion sunburst.

A couple of tracks get into “off”-tuning and abrasive dissononace, but they’re in the minority.  The acoustic “I Would Ask” comes up fairly early in the album and is actually a welcome break from the sea of niceness. “The Gate Is That Way, Not This” is the one that will have roommates and spouses running away screaming; it’s an electric-guitar improv with lots of atonality (in the loose, improper sense that jazz critics use) and screechy sounds.

The bulk of this album, though, is really nice, a very rewarding listen.

Random side note: All of the electric-guitar work on the album was performed with a true-temperament neck, which uses squiggly frets to produce more accurately toned scales. Check it out.

July 4, 2010 at 11:04 am Leave a comment

Ava Mendoza Swings

Ava MendozaShadow Stories (Resipiscent, 2010)

Performing solo guitar: Sunday June 27, 10:30 a.m., live on KUSF 90.3; Monday, June 28, at Luna’s Cafe (Sacramento); and Tuesday, June 29, at Amnesia (San Francisco) as part of a guitar-compilation release party by the Tomkins Square label.  And non-solo-guitar dates listed here.

Bay Area music fans who know guitarist Ava Mendoza from the punk attack of Mute Socialite, from her noisy guitar experiments on compilations like Women Take Back the Noise, from her noisy work with Weasel Walter — is going to be surprised to hear a straight-up reading of “The Tennessee Waltz” and “I’m So Glad” opening this album. I was.

So, the jazz references in interviews and bios turn out to be for real, and not too distant from what Mendoza’s still into. “The Tennessee Waltz” gets into some unconventional ad-libbing but sticks to its country/blues mood, with a bright and rough-edged guitar sound that evokes a stage in a dusty bar graced with long afternoon shadows.

And you know what? That’s how the whole first half of the album goes!

Yes, this dark gray package that I was taking for a noisefest turns out to be a celebration of roots guitar in a western-swing style.

But only at first, because if you’re on the Resipiscent label, home to guys like this, the noise is sure to come. “The Furious Harpy” lists into some relaxing, distorted ambiance — backwards notes, guitar tones sampled into bouncing-pebble tapping — that gradually turns dark and steely, with stomping guitar from a very non-jazz place. It’s a 12-minute turning point.

That sets us up for two more unsettling tracks. “Penumbra: The Age of Almost Li” returns to a regular musical structure, but now it’s dark, slow, and slightly twisted, like evil biker music. “In My Dreams” puts fragments of guitar melody into an echoey, plinky environment, a dream that’s not a nightmare but still not quite right.

Then, abruptly, the album switches back to friendly jazz for its closing tracks. “Goodnight Irene” gets a particularly nice, expansive treatment.

Getting back to the subject of Mendoza’s jazz/swing playing — it’s terrific. “Shadowtrapping” is upbeat, combining some old-timey tricks with newer improvising ideas that break the mold but not the mood. With a second overdubbed guitar laying down the rhythm, Mendoza shows off some playfully fancy lead lines. “Kiss of Fire” has a darker mood, like an ancestor of rockabilly, but the same snappy jazz rhythm and great creative soloing. They’re tracks you can really sink your teeth into.

Mendoza gets to show multiple sides of her personality on this album. It’s a release to be proud of.

May 26, 2010 at 12:06 am Leave a comment

Strange Music in Mountain View

It’s true — bassist Steuart Liebig is swinging through town, up from L.A. with some friends, and he’s got a gig:  Friday, May 14, 7:00 p.m., at the Dana Street Roasting Company (744 W. Dana St., Mountain View).

The gig that will get more attention is tonight (May 13), when Nels Cline shows up. He and G.E. Stinson (guitars) and Scott Amendola (drums), plus Liebig, are/were the improv group L. Stinkbug back in the ’90s. They’ve all continued playing together in all sorts of combinations, but they’re reviving L. Stinkbug for a show at 21 Grand in Oakland.

There will be a second L. Stinkbug show in Sacramento, at Beatnik Studios as part of “Flow Fest.”

But the surprise bonus gig is the Dana Street one.  I can’t imagine they host free improv very often — or maybe the group that night is something more structured?  It will be a trio Brotulid: Liebig (bass and “technology”), Andrew Pask (woodwinds and more technology), and G.E. Stinson (guitars, technology, and beats).

I’m guessing Brotulid will play improv, but you never know. Liebig has done serious chamber music, and he’s also done a rocking type of free jazz with his band The Mentones (think Ornette Coleman played with blues guitar and a harmonica). Either way, it’s nice to see Dana Street giving some interesting music a haven, even if only for one night.

May 13, 2010 at 12:52 am 1 comment

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