April 20 was Record Store Day, dedicated to the preservation of a vanishing institution. Like many consumers, I buy much of my music digitally these days, mostly as a space-saving concession. That said, I still have a strong affinity for physical media; there’s something about the cover art, liner notes, and sense of tangible connection to the art that can’t be replaced by an audio file. I also enjoy rifling through the inventory of record shops, especially cavernous used outlets like CDepot in College Park. It’s often possible to find albums that have been passed over by the digital transition, like these two finds. Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’ is a 1968 instrumental album by two leading session musicians of the era — James Burton (lead guitarist of Ricky Nelson and Elvis fame) and Ralph Mooney (pedal steel sidekick to Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, among others). It’s an interesting if unexpected album. Rather than dazzling with instrumental wizardry, the duo opt for a more restrained and tuneful approach, displaying the taste and melodic deference that earned them spots on so many hit tracks. Three for the Road is a typically solid 1997 outing by leading Canadian jazz musicians Rob McConnell (trombone), Ed Bickert (guitar), and Don Thompson (bass). Regular blog readers probably know by now that I’m a huge Bickert fan. Much of the guitarist’s output is either out of print or unavailable in the States, so stumbling on this CD was a pleasant surprise — a surprise that’s increasingly hard to come by as brick-and-mortar record shops fall off the map.
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.
Managing a job, writing a dissertation, preparing for a jazz ensemble recital… All these things and more have been consuming my not-so-infinite free time in recent weeks. This is despite having a backlog of blogging content including artist spotlights, album reviews, and gear tests. Oh, and soon enough I’m going to be migrating all of the existing content to a newer, hipper blog format.
In the meantime, I recently found out our friends to the north are celebrating Ed Bickert’s 80th birthday. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will be airing a tribute show on November 29th, and an album of previously unreleased material is set to hit the shelves on December 7th. Much of Bickert’s material is unfortunately out of print these days, so a new release is always exciting news.