N.O.S. Jazz Highlights of 2012: Guitars on the Side

I realized early on as a guitar player that being a frontman was probably not my gig. All of the attention and vanity is too much of a distraction from what I really want to be doing, which is playing the guitar. So I have a healthy appreciation for the guitar-wielding sideman, hanging back with the drums and bass to lay down a solid groove while occasionally throwing out a tasty lead for the sake of musical texture, rather than shameless attention-mongering.

In my last post, I highlighted five of my favorite guitar-centric jazz albums of 2012. In this post, I’ll a highlight a few standouts where guitars played a supporting role:

Christian aTunde Adjuah by Christian Scott

This 2-disc, topically-motivated collection of tracks by trumpeter Christian Scott is sprawling, hypnotic, sometimes messy, and very modern. Not straight-ahead jazz, but an attempt to break from traditional molds and forge a sound grounded in more modern grooves and musical sensibilities. Fans of Miles Davis’ 1970s output — but looking for something more current — should take note. The core band includes Lawrence Fields on piano, Kris Funn on bass, Jamire Williams on drums, and Matthew Stevens on guitar. Stevens provides a subtle and atmospheric harmonic backing for the group, only stepping out on lead where it matters. Check out “vs. the Kleptocratic Union (Ms. McDowell’s Crime)” for a great guitar solo.

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N.O.S. Jazz Highlights of 2012: Guitars Up Front

If you happened to be listening to NPR’s Toast of the Nation on New Years Eve, you may have caught John Scofield’s set with the Uberband at the Berklee Performance Center. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for the whole two-hour show. I have to admit that I previously felt lukewarm about Scofield’s 2002 album Uberjam, which was heavy on electronic beats and samples. Seeing the music performed live, however, gave me a new appreciation for the band and their creative interplay around a killer set of modern grooves. It was also cool to see Scofield tear through the entire set on a Fender Strat (he’s almost always accompanied onstage by his trusty Ibanez Artstar). You can see a pic of the Strat and listen to most of the set at NPR music.

The show also reminded me of how I’ve largely neglected the year in jazz guitar listening, in part because of an Americana focus resulting from my cross-posting on No Depression. Nevertheless, it was a good year for jazz guitar albums, and here are five of the standouts where guitarists held the spotlight:

Star of Jupiter by Kurt Rosenwinkel

Star of Jupiter was a pleasant surprise from Rosenwinkel, who hadn’t hinted much at new material — 2 discs worth — until shortly before its release in the fall. This is a really solid and inventive set from beginning to end, and perhaps Kurt’s studio masterpiece to date. The 12 original tunes are thoroughly modern, with enough classic post-bop sensibility to appeal to more straight-ahead jazz fans. The superb band includes Aaron Parks on piano, Eric Revis on bass, and Justin Faulkner on drums.

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New.Old.Stock.’s Top 10 of 2012

The New Year is fast approaching, and the folks at No Depression recently sent out a call to their bloggers for the Top 10 albums (Americana) of 2012. I tried to strike a balance in terms of genres, labels, and mainstream name recognition. Feel free to suggest your own additions in the comments.

Number 10: “Across the Imaginary Divide” by Bela Fleck & the Marcus Roberts Trio

In the early days of jazz, the banjo was the stringed rhythm instrument of choice. The guitar — particularly the electric guitar — eventually overtook the banjo. On this album, Americana and jazz pioneer Bela Fleck puts the six-stringers to shame, trading both rhythm and leads with the piano/drums/bass lineup of the Marcus Roberts Trio. It’s a classic sound with a modern twist.

Number 9: “Goodbye Normal Street” by the Turnpike Troubadours

Solid country tunesmithing for those who can’t stomach most of what’s coming out of Nashville these days. Goodbye Normal Street is evidence of a band that’s maturing and broadening its appeal, while at the same time staying true to their sound and Americana roots. Highly recommended for those who are tired of the same old same old on country radio. (full review)

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