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Special CD Review: New Releases from a Guitar Point of View
By Brian L. Knight

There is nothing like the good old guitar. From the finger picking of the acoustic guitar to blazing electric solos, the guitar is often the instrument that first captures the listener’s ears. For many, the guitar is one’s first instrument from which a foundation of music education is established. For the non-gifted or non-motivated, the air guitar will raise any person from common Joe to stadium superstar. In the following pages, you will come across a whole slew of releases that have a guitar slant to them. For many, the guitar will be the focus of the release – the Albert King /Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Kirkland, Mike Keneally and Willie Nelson are all fine examples. In others, you will hear bands that have a talented guitarist at the helm of the band like Bevis Frond, Box of Frogs and Crawler. In the others, you will find that on many jazz releases by the likes of Don Byron, Bob Moses, and Chico Hamilton, the guitarist may not be the leader, but they are definitely a major contributor to the sound. Enjoy.

1)The Leaders

Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan/ In Session (Fantasy Jazz, 1983, 1999)

During the winter of 1983, guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King met for Canadian TV program called In Session. The resulting 45-minute jam session represented one of the finest summit meetings of two different generation’s best blues guitarists. The 60 year old King, who played his guitar left handed but with a right handed stringing scheme, influenced many a guitar player, especially Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, with his unique tone. In 1983, the 29-year-old guitar wizard from Austin, Texas, Stevie Ray Vaughan,

had just reached popular success with his guitar playing on David Bowie’s "Let’s Dance". In addition, Vaughan had attained critical acclaim with his searing guitar solos on his own album, Texas Flood.

For this session, the elder King is definitely taking the spotlight with Vaughan holding back on his solos but still providing brief spotlights of skill. Along with King’s working band of pianist/organist Tony Llorens, bassist Gus Thornton and drummer Michael Llorens, the five work through some great blues tunes such as T Bone Walker’s "Call It Stormy Monday", Vaughan’s own "Pride and Joy" as well as King’s classic "Blues at Sunrise", "Match Box Blues" and "Overall Junction." The tunes are interspersed with dialogue between the two legends such as when reminiscences about the first time the two met back in 1973 and a "pep talk" in which King says ‘ you are already pretty good, but you gonna be better……….I am going to be watching for you and praying for you. I am going to be right there with bullwhip." The session is a must get for any blues guitarist enthusiast.

Willie Nelson/Night and Day (Pedernales Records, 1999)

After thirty years of singing and playing guitar and over 50 albums worth of studio, live and soundtrack albums, Texas country legend Willie Nelson may have come out with his most intriguing release to date with Night and Day. Nelson has continuously stood out above others with his distinctive voice and heartfelt ballads, but one aspect of Mr. Nelson that is often forgotten is his guitar playing. For countless years now, Nelson has played the same guitar, Trigger, which is a Martin gut string electric acoustic guitar. With its dents, scratches and autographs, the guitar looks like it couldn’t fetch a dime at neighborhood tag sale. On Night and Day, all of the emphasis is placed on Nelson and Trigger as well as fiddler/mandolinist Johnny Gimble, guitarist Jody Payne, pianist Mickey Raphael, bassist B. Spears, drummer Paul English and percussionist Billy English. Night and Day signifies Willie Nelson’s first all instrumental album and pay respect to the hillbilly jazz pioneers of Djanjo Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli who combined Spanish, Latin, Swing and Mexican styles to create an unique blend of jazz. Over the years, Nelson has always touched on the jazz influences but never a full-blown commitment – at least until now. Night and Day is a very smooth instrumental recording with versions of Reinhardt’s "Nuages", Cole Porter’s "Night and Day" and Fats Waller’s "Honeysuckle Rose." The album is a total Willie Nelson endeavor as Gimble’s fiddle and mandolin playing accentuates the recording perfectly Night and Day is a fresh glimpse at a musicians’ skill that has always been there but has never been given the proper spotlight.

Mike Keneally/ Nonkertompf (Exowax Records, 1999)

Keneally comes off as a Renaissance Man as he tackles all of the instruments on this fine progressive album. Being one of Frank Zappa’s former guitarists, one may expect Steve Vai pyrotechnics or Adrian Belew’s quirkiness. Keneally takes both elements and then some more. The one thing that Keneally shared most with Zappa was compositional skill. The album contains 35 original songs that cover every style in the book. "Click" shows Keneally on acoustic guitar and especially fine piano work. "Naked Horse" is an avant-garde romp. "Blue Jean Baby" and "Juzz" are examples electronic nonsense and wizardry. "The Knife and Drum" is hard driving guitar soloing rock that melts into a funky organ jam. "Show Yourself’ is write up Steve Vai’s alley. "Nine" belongs as a soundtrack to a silent movie. Some songs such as ""What Are you Doing", "Sunset Over the Paprika Festival" and "I Just Got Here" are so short, they barely register on the CD player. Are you seeing the theme here? Well, there is none and that is the theme. Keneally goes for it all, always showing his ability to compose a song of all styles and genres (except for any style that involves singing). For more info on Mike Keneally, check out his web site at www.keneally.com.

 

Eddie Kirkland/The Complete Trix Recordings (32 Blues, 1999)

Guitarist/Harpist Eddie Kirkland was born in Jamaica and raised in Alabama where he first picked up the guitar at the age of the 12. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Kirkland joined up with great soul, blues and R&B acts such as John Lee Hooker, King Curtis and Otis Redding. In 1999, 32 Blues re-released two classic Kirkland albums, 1972’s Front and Center and The Devil and Other Blues Demons, on one two-disc set called The Complete Trix Recordings. Both recordings feature Kirkland’s distinctive voice as well as mastery of the National guitar, harmonica and bottleneck slide style. Kirkland obviously owes a lot of respect to great Blues singers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, John Lee Hooker and Lightning Hopkins, but after 60 odd years of playing, Kirkland is definitely a legend in his own time. You will not find the searing blues solos a la the three kings (the unrelated Freddie, B.B. and Albert Kings) but rather the acoustic/electric blues that Eric Clapton looked towards for inspiration in his Unplugged concert. Within the two CD’s tracks, you will find 26 funky, raw, and very rhythmic Kirkland originals that show that is music obviously comes from deep inside his soul. At age 71, Kirkland still plays wherever he is asked and tours around in his own van. If you are looking for some Mississippi slide blues, Kirkland may be one of finest living examples available today.

 

2) It’s A Band Thing

Crawler/Concert Classics (Renaissance Records Volume 8, 1999)

The United Kingdom group Crawler had a short-lived career during the latter half of the 1970s. The band first came together as Backstreet Crawler in 1973 under the leadership of guitarist Paul Kossoff, whose distinct guitar riffs can be heard on Free’s "All Right Now". In 1976, Kossoff died of a heart attack and the band reformed under the name of Crawler with Geoff Whitehorn serving as a replacement guitarist for Kossoff. Whitehorn, who originally came from the jazz-rock group If, would later play on Roger Water’s Amused to Death and Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace. Drummer Tony Braunagel would later make a name for himself playing on great blues albums such as Buddy Guy’s Feels Like Rain, Otis Rush’s Ain’t Enough Comin’ In and Taj Mahal’s Dancing the Blues while keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick played on the acclaimed Brian Eno album June 1st 1974 (which also featured Kevin Ayers and Nico) as well as Pete Townsend’s Empty Glass, Rough Mix, White City and Iron Man. It was only singer Terry Wilson Slesser who seemed to disappear into obscurity after Crawler. Before every member went there own separate ways, Crawler put out 4 albums during the 1970s and Renaissance Records (http://skymarshall.com/renaissance) just discovered this concert footage from the band’s heyday. If you are looking for some great guitar orientated rock, as Whitehorn can play damn good, in the vein of Humble Pie meets Little Feat, this little known English band that played good old blues based rock and roll amidst an era of disco or punk, then give em’ a try.

 

Box of Frogs/Box of Frogs and Strange Land (Renaissance Records, 1984, 1986, 1999)

During the 1960s, the British based Blues band, the Yardbirds, yielded three of rock and roll’s finest guitarists – Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. From this launching pad, these three went on to revolutionize the way rock and roll was played in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even today, these three keep their innovations/exciting play alive as they maintain an active live itinerary as well as sessions in the studio. Jumping back sixteen years to 1983, three former less renowned guitar playing Yardbirds –Jim McCarty, Chris Dreja and Paul Samwell-Smith – got back together to form Box of Frogs. Vocalist guitarist John Fiddler also augmented the band. During their short lived time together, Box of Frogs recorded two albums, Box of Frogs and Strange Land, which have been re-released by Renaissance Records. With the help of Jeff Beck, whom guests on their self titled debut album, the Box of Frogs provide a blues rooted pop sound. The album possesses all the characteristics of an early 1980s album – drum machines, synthesizers, overly produced vocals; luckily Beck’s guitar saves the album from total disaster.

The Bevis Frond: Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco (Flydaddy Records, 1999) & Adrian Shaw/Head Cleaner (Woronzow Records, 1999)

In recent years, psychedelic music has been losing its identity. With the advent of jam bands, the term "groove" has replaced "psychedelic". In reality, the two terms easily overlap as bands like Jiggle the Handle and Max Creek have been able to create intense danceable grooves through psychedelic jams. What makes a band psychedelic but not a jam band? Well, it usually takes an inventive lead guitarist who can take the music in any direction possible and an adaptable rhythm section that can follow and lead at the same time. There seems to be less emphasis on the jazz-influence - Soulive, MM&W, the Slip and the Living Daylights are not psychedelic, although there may be moments. There is less emphasis on creating an ambient jam and more focus on punishing the mind with exploratory solos. This is a humble attempt at trying to discern the difference between the two. Who are psychedelic bands? In the 1960s, the Quicksilver Messenger Service embodied psychedelic music. In the 1970s, Hawkwind, although associated with progressive music, were known for extensive psychedelic jams led by guitarist Dave Brock. In the late 1970s-early 1980s, Televison’s guitarist Tom Verlaine combined Hendrix like guitar playing with a punk attitude.

In the 1980s-1990s, the psychedelic torch has been carried by the Bevis Frond. Formed in England in 1984, this trio for this show consists of guitarist Nick Saloman, drummer Andy Ward and bassist Adrian Shaw. Saloman is the founder and primary songwriter of Bevis Frond, which he originally formed way back in 1968. This live, recorded in April of 1998, CD provides a great overview of this underground band. The fact that this album was recorded in one of the birthplaces of the psychedelic sound, San Francisco (the other birthplace being Pink Floyd’s London), the album also appears as an unofficial tribute to the band’s influences. In comparison to their studio albums, these songs are raw and unbridled. Expect a bit of pop sensibility mixed with distorted songs such as "Hole Song #2", "Miasma" and "New River Head". During the 1960s, the great psychedelic bands such as Big Brother and Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Doors arose out of the blues tradition. These eleven songs keep the tradition going well into the 21st Century. The band also pays tribute to one of the great psychedelic bands with a version of Love’s "Signed DC". On the more refined side of things, Bevis Frond bassist Adrian Shaw recorded the album Head Cleaner. In comparison to the rawness of the live Bevis Frond, Head Cleaner provides well-crafted and produced songs that combine psychedelic and progressive music. Shaw, a veteran of Hawkwind, brought in guest artists such as Simon House (David Bowie, Hawkwind) and past and present members of Bevis Frond. With its catchy rhythm, great guitar soloing and far-out lyrics, the song "Mobius Trip" is one of finest cuts on the album. Surprisingly, Head Cleaner does not have the steady blues character that one wold find with Bevis Frond or Hawkwind. Rather, the album is collection of eleven songs that keep the psychedelic tradition alive and well but also have enough characteristics of standard pop song that makes the album very agreeable to the ear.

3) The Sideman

Don Byron/ Romance with the Unseen (Blue Note Records, 1999)

Clarinetist Don Byron needs less and less introduction these days. In recent years, he displayed his musical diversity through the funky Nu Blaxploitation, the klezmer of Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz and the swing orientated Bug Music. His recent endeavor is Romance of the Unseen, which also features guitarist Bill Frisell, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Drew Gress. Although the album is a highlight for Byron’s clarinet, which is often neglected instrument within today’s jazz circles, a fine surprise to the album is guitarist Bill Frisell who serves many roles throughout the album. The two together played on Byron’s first album The Tuskeegee Experiments and Frisell has also released some fine solo works such as 1995’s Nashville and 1999’s Good Dog, Happy Man. On the free-jazz/fusion of "Bernhard Goetz, James Ramseur and Me", Frisell’s guitar playing ranges from distortion laden solos to syncopated rhythm comps. By the time the version of the Beatles’ "I’ll Follow The Sun" arrives, Frisell sounds like he should be playing in a country rock band. In the avant-garde "Homegoing" , Frisell leads the band through a Garcia-like space romp. In a given session, Frisell can sound like every jazz guitarist from John McLaughlin to James "Blood" Ulmer without losing his own distinct sound and style. The album is rightfully billed as a Don Byron solo album, for Byron is the primary songwriter and his high pitched clarinet solos easily catch the listener’s ears, but it is Frisell’s subtle fill ins and wide eyed solos that provide the album with the texture that gives the album. In with the eclectic sounds that compromise Romance with the Unseen, the album evokes a feeling of uniformity and cohesiveness and is overall a very accessible and enjoyable album to listen to.

Chico Hamilton/The Dealer (Impulse Records, 1966, 1999)

The like the great Art Blakely, jazz drummer Chico Hamilton always had a knack for identifying some of the best up and coming musicians. The great Hamilton spent his formative years in and out of many bands such as Count Basie’s, Lena Horne’s and Lester Young’s but in the early 1960s, he set off with his own quintets. During the 1960s, two guitarists passed through Hamilton’s bands – Gabor Szabo and Larry Coryell. For the re-release of 1966’s The Dealer, Impulse Records has combined the original recording which features the debut recording of Larry Coryell as well as some mystery recordings with fellow newcomer, Budapest born Szabo. For the Coryell sessions, there is a fine brand of fusion occurring with Coryell’s playing being spread throughout the album’s seven tracks. For the opening "The Dealer", Coryell takes a wicked solo along with fellow newcomer, saxophonist Arnie Lawrence while for the bluesy "A Trip", Lawrence’s solo is the focus of the tune while Coryell masterfully comps along and then closes out the song with a frenzied yet subtle solo. On "Larry of Arabia", it is Coryell displaying the influences that Barney Kessel and Jim Hall may had on his playing. Prior to this recording, Coryell was making a name for himself in the jazz-rock group Free Spirits and then soon left Hamilton to further his love fusion with vibist Gary Burton’s quartet.

Before Coryell’s arrival, the Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo, who escaped communism in Budapest and immediately landed in Hamilton’s band, held Chico Hamilton’s guitar spot. Like Coryell, Szabo would also become an innovator of jazz-rock guitar fusion (His "Gypsy Queen" would inspire Carlos Santana years later). For four tunes on The Dealer re-release, "Chic Chic Chico", "Big Noise from Winnetka", "The Second Time Around" and "El Toro", Szabo remains in the background for these sessions and his full potential is not totally revealed. In comparison to Coryell, Szabo serves as much more of an accompanist than a primary soloist for Hamilton. Szabo has since returned to Hungary where he more active pursues the combination of American Jazz and European music.

Bob Moses-Tisziji Munos/ Love Everlasting (Amulet Records, 1987, 1999)

When I first saw guitarist Munoz and drummer/percussionist Bob Moses first play, it was at an event called Ascensions of Boston which was a tribute to John Coltrane that also featured noted musicians pianist John Medeski, saxophonist George Garzone, drummer Bob Gulliotti, and saxophonist Stan Strickland. In the tradition in Coltrane’s later 1960s work, the Ascensions band worked through one spiritual solo improvisation after another. Bob Moses, a native of Boston, has worked with many talented guitarists over the years. He first broke out on the scene with jazz fusion band Free Spirits with a young Larry Coryell (who would leave the band for Chico Hamilton’s The Dealer) and then moved on to play with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. For the 1998 Ascensions concert, Moses recruited the enigmatic guitarist Tisziji Munoz whose unorthodox solos pierced through the nightclub air. With John Medeski on the bill, there was many a hippie in the house whose were anticipating a funk groove that fell somewhere in the Medeski, Martin and Wood/Phish funk groove. It was Munoz’ dissonance and distorted offbeat solos that quickly stated that the night's concert was going to be about a groove at a different level.

Much to my personal pleasure, I discovered that many of the musicians that participated in that 1998 concert event collaborated on Love Everlasting in 1987. Led by the energetic and playful Moses, the Love Everlasting crew consisted of Munoz, Medeski, Garzone, saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, keyboardist Brad Hatfield, bassist John Lockwood and Wesley Wirth, drummer Bob Wittman. The first two songs, "Love Everlasting" and "The Lioness", are fine examples of free jazz sessions with the drummers, pianists and reed players playing solos throughout. Guitarist Munoz doesn’t really show why he is a co-biller on the album until his own "Earth Changes" and Moses’ "Fatherhood" which assume a little more structure than the previous songs and allow for Munoz to take a McLaughlin inspired solo. The final tune, Coltrane’s "Naima", is a fitting tribute and is reflective of the great "Naima" that Carlos Santana and McLauglin jammed together during the 1970s on Love, Devotion, Surrender.

This has been a random sampling of the guitar sounds available to the ear today. There is so many more talented musicians to be heard. For the jazz enthusiasts, 32 Jazz and Blue Note are continuously releasing the works of Grant Green. There is also Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, Jim Hall and Barney Kessell. For the blues fans, search out Luther Allison, Freddie King and Robert Johnson. For the acoustic guitar sounds, look no further than Tony Rice or Tony Furtado. Electric guitar? Yikes! How about Frank Zappa, Mark Ribot, Steve Vai, David Torn, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew, Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Yes’ Steve Howe, Ozric Tentacle’s Ed Wynne, Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cippolina, Hawkwind’s Dave Brock, Henry Cow’s Fred Frith, Gong’s Steve Hillage, Rush’s Alex Lifeson, Kiss’s Ace Frehley, AC-DC’s Angus Young and many, many more.