Organ Grinder at Your Feet

I tend to stick to basics when it comes to guitar effects, but this latest offering from Electro-Harmonix — the “B9 Organ Machine” — looks pretty cool. While it’s no substitute for a righteous Hammond player, the sounds in the clip are still pretty convincing. Definitely an intriguing option for adding something different to the mix.

I’ve been on an organ combo kick for the past month or so, ever since catching Pat Martino’s trio at Birdland. One of my favorite albums of 2014 so far is Shadow Box by Bob DeVos, which blends old school soul jazz sounds with a more contemporary aesthetic. DeVos is a skillful bop-grounded improviser, but he’s also at home over a bluesy groove — check out the gospel-inflected “Basie in Mind,” one of the standouts from Shadow Box

Ron Carter’s Low End Theory

“Yes my man Ron Carter is on the bass” — I’m not too ashamed to admit that my introduction to bassist Ron Carter came via A Tribe Called Quest. That was probably ten years ago, and I wasn’t listening to much jazz at the time. Little did I know that “Verses from the Abstract” was just the (Q-)tip of the Ron Carter iceberg; the man has anchored a ton of groundbreaking music (check out any recording by the second great Miles Davis quintet), claiming over 2000 album credits.

I was lucky enough to catch Ron Carter and his Golden Striker Trio this past weekend at Bohemian Caverns. Carter is still on top of his game at 77 years young, holding down the low end with some of the most distinctive and emotive lines ever plucked on four strings. The current lineup includes Donald Vega on piano and Russell Malone on guitar. Malone’s signature bluesy lead lines and hard-swinging comping have made him an in-demand sideman for the likes of Sonny Rollins and Diana Krall; not surprisingly, he’s masterfully adept at responding to Carter’s subtle harmonic cues. Ron Carter is always in his element opposite guitar players — check out Alone Together with Jim Hall or the 2006 eponymous trio recording with Bill Frisell and Paul Motian.

Photo: Andre Silvestre


Reelin’ in the Years

400537561_05d296bd3e_zThere is a thoughtful post on No Depression regarding B.B. King, whose 88 years of living the blues has really started to show in recent years. The man is a living testament to American music history and a national treasure, but I have to agree with the gentle suggestion of the post’s author — that B.B.’s inner circle should be nudging him toward retirement from the road. The first time I saw King in 2002 was inspiring; the man electrified the house with an extended set of his signature urban blues, coaxing syrupy bends from Lucille and commanding a first-rate road band. By stark contrast, the last time I caught B.B. in 2010, he only barely made it through a forty minute headlining set, at times rambling through tired schtick and only strangling a handful of halting notes from his Gibson. I walked away from the show with a sad realization that it was probably the last time I would hear King in person; it was like seeing a family member slowly fading, and wishing you could have one more opportunity — however brief — to experience their former self.

At the same time, it’s pretty clear that B.B. truly loves the life he lives, and it must be exceedingly difficult to set that passion aside, no matter how much your body and mind resist. At the end of the day, the decision is his to make — I just hope B.B. opts soon for some well-earned rest and relaxation, before the road life finally catches up with his health.

On a more uplifting note, a series of short interview clips with jazz guitar legend Ed Bickert recently cropped up on Vimeo; the clips appear to be previews of a larger project in progress. Bickert, now 81, retired from the jazz scene more than a decade ago. Interviews with the tele-wielding master of harmony are rare, and much of his catalog is now out of print. In the clips, Ed discusses his development as a player, technique, career highlights, and even spends a little time with his signature guitar in hand. It’s reassuring to see that someone is collecting some oral history from Bickert, who has quietly inspired the comping of many a jazz picker.

Photo: Daniele Dalledonne


Live Review: Mary Halvorson Quintet at the Outpost Performance Space

It was only about halfway into the Mary Halvorson Quintet’s December 19th set at Albuquerque’s Outpost Performance Space, on a new tune provisionally titled “No. 51,”  that the guitarist herself took an extended solo break. Her spidery lines, liberally sprinkled with altered tones and creatively dancing around the meter, revealed a musician more than up to the task of jazz improvisation. However, any effort to judge Halvorson on solo merits alone is completely missing the point.

Mary with her vintage United Code franken-guitar in 2011; she played the unique instrument through a Twin Reverb at the Outpost gig. Photo by Andy Newcombe.

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New Sheryl Bailey on the Way

The video is a little rough, but NY-based Sheryl Bailey really kills it on this rendition of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Single note lines, chord soloing, dissonant altered tones — it’s pretty much all there in her astonishingly well-crafted solo. Sheryl has a new organ trio album due out New Years Day. I’ve had her big band album A New Promise in pretty consistent rotation since it came out in 2011, and I’m looking forward to the new small combo LP. Bailey is adept in a variety of band formats, while also being a prolific writer/composer. Her instructional material on TrueFire is also worth checking out.

The jazz guitar scene (in keeping with the broader guitar scene) isn’t exactly known for gender balance. That said, beginning with Emily Remler in the 1980s, women have represented some of the more notable and forward-looking jazz pickers. Sheryl is certainly one example, profiled as a “Rising Star” in Downbeat’s 2013 Critics Poll. Avant gard-ist Mary Halvorson (also featured in the Critics Poll) continues to enjoy a great deal of critical acclaim for her chops and abstract compositional approach. And don’t forget Mimi Fox, one of my favorite latter-day purveyors of straight-ahead jazz guitar — whether leading a combo or carrying on Joe Pass’s legacy in solo settings.

Campilongo Album Preview

No, I didn’t obtain a secret bootleg of Dream Dictionary, the new Jim Campilongo album due out January 21st. But there is a great interview with Jim in the latest issue of Premier Guitar, in which he discusses the album and his creative process. And a live clip on YouTube of the title track. In the interview, Campilongo notes that he was inspired by Miles Davis’s In A Silent Way. The influence is evident on this tune, which reflects the meditative yet dynamic vibe of that album — while still bearing Campy’s indelible sonic stamp.

If you’re as anxious as I am for Dream Dictionary, I suggest biding your time with In A Silent Way. The all-star cast of post-bop and fusion luminaries includes a young John McLaughlin on guitar, whose bluesy lead lines and funky comping are interwoven throughout. While controversial with jazz critics at the time, it’s a more restrained statement by comparison to what followed in the form of Bitches Brew.

Kickstart Jana Pochop’s Next EP

I’ve dropped Jana Pochop’s name a few times on the blog. She’s a prolific singer-songwriter and a fellow Manzano High School guitar program alumnae. We rocked the Albuquerque folk scene in college. Now Jana’s based in Austin, making her living as a musician and social media entreprenour  She has a new EP on the way, and you can be a part of the creative process via Kickstarter. I can heartily vouch for her first two EPs (see “Resurrection Buzz” from EP2 below), and have no doubt this one will round out an epic trilogy. Think Led Zeppelin I through III — she’s even holding a Les Paul! But fewer Tolkien references. And more emotionally insightful lyrics about the human experience. 11 days left!


The Tao of Yngwie

Yngwie Malmsteen graces the October cover of Guitar Player. Yes, that Yngwie — of the sweeping arpeggios and unbuttoned baroque shirts. That Yngwie, who wields such phenomenal technique, and such a phenomenally bad reputation for being a colossal ass. I’m not sure what compelled me to read the interview — perhaps morbid curiosity, or perhaps fond memories of listening to his neo-classical Concerto Suite album during my high school shred phase. In any case, I’m glad I did, because it seems Mr. Malmsteen has undergone a personal and professional transformation worth noting.

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6-String Metronome

Great footage of the Basie Band, circa 1965. Freddie Green’s archtop comping comes through nicely in the mix. Green was the band’s metronome for five decades, arguably as pivotal to the band’s sound as Basie himself, or any of the all-star soloists that filtered through the lineup. Notably, he almost never took a lead — not because he wasn’t capable, but because he saw himself first and foremost as a member of the rhythm section. Green’s rock-steady, harmonically sparse chord playing is still a model for swing and bop guitar, particularly in contexts where guitar and piano occupy the same space.

I think most guitar players, regardless of genre, can take a cue from Freddie Green. Back in college, I used to play in the house band for a weekly blues jam. Every week, I encountered players who could wail on a solo, but often phoned it in when it was time to comp and pass the spotlight to other players. Besides being bad form (and a great way to earn the ire of the band), that lack of rhythmic attention usually creeps into solo lines that are long on notes but short on groove (i.e. tedious).

I’ve been seeking out jazz albums where the guitarist plays a primarily supporting role. Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh is a great example; the two iconic sax players take center stage, supported by Sal Mosca on piano, Oscar Pettiford on bass, Kenny Clarke on drums, and Billy Bauer on guitar. Bauer is one of the unsung guitar heroes of the swing-to-bop transition, having recorded with luminaries like Benny Goodman, Lennie Tristano, and Charlie Parker. He could play a mean lead (evidenced on his only solo album, Plectrist), but takes a backseat on the Konitz/Marsh meeting, providing warm chordal backing for the blowers. Rhythm-seekers should also check out Coleman Hawkins’ The Hawk Flies High, which features Barry Galbraith on guitar. Galbraith only has one short (yet tasty) solo on the album, but his rhythm playing throughout is solidly rooted in the Freddie Green tradition.