Category: Funk

Oz Noy Quartet – 55 Bar, December 25, 2018

The Oz Noy Quartet at the 55 Bar, December 25, 2018. From the right, Oz Noy, Omer Avital, David Kikoski, and Anthony Pinciotti (obscured by cymbal).

Oz Noy has said of his music, “It’s jazz, it just doesn’t sound like it.” On his recent quartet gig at the 55 Bar, it could be argued that Oz’s music sounded a step or two closer to what most ears accept as jazz. Accompanied by Omer Avital on stand-up bass, Anthony Pinciotti on drums, and David Kikoski on electric piano, Oz explored a range of jazz standards, plus a classic R & B tune, hitting a couple more jazz signifiers than usual, and extending the range of his boundary-pushing-yet-accessible style.

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Harriet Tubman, featuring Brandon Ross, at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 2018

Harriet Tubman, featuring Brandon Ross, at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 2018

Brandon Ross at NuBlu, June 22, 2018

Harriet Tubman’s music was nearly entirely new to me. Before the Alternative Guitar Summit, I checked out a few tracks from Araminta, Harriet Tubman’s latest album, but I had no time for a deep dive. Consisting of bassist Melvin Gibbs, drummer J.T. Lewis, and guitarist Brandon Ross, Harriet Tubman has now been a band for more than 20 years. The group’s members each have varied resumes full of prestigious gigs. Given the members’ respective artistic ranges, it would be slightly arguable to say that Harriet Tubman is the most “alternative” or out-there project for any of them, but this group’s musical vision is undisputedly way past the borders of anything that can be reasonably considered mainstream. The imposing electric bass presence of Gibbs—who is equally able to lay down a deep ostinato; jam a fuzzed-out single-note solo; and loop some noise—and the highly sympathetic drumming of Lewis created an environment in which Ross explores sound and melody free of pretty much every known conventional guitar trope.  

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Adam Rogers at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 2018

Adam Rogers’s DICE at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 2018

Adam Rogers at NuBlu, June 22, 2018

Following Fiuczynski, Adam Rogers took the stage, leading the trio known as DICE and playing material drawn from their eponymous album. The onstage trio also included bassist Fima Ephron and drummer J.T. Thomas, the latter of whom was subbing for regular drummer Nate Smith.

On one level, DICE’s music was the most straightforward fare of the night. Equipped with just a Strat, a single pedal of some kind, and a modest-sized blackface Fender amp, Rogers stood tonally apart from his guitarist mates in not making use of an array of effects boxes and expression pedals. The guitar tones he applied could have comfortably satisfied a Stevie Ray Vaughn-esque blues rocker. Even though his bridge-pickup tones can get edgy, Rogers undeniably Fender sound has both tautness and girth. And, Fima Ephron’s fat, steady bass grooves would have, likewise, been at home in a more traditional blues-rock setting. But, this being the Alternative Guitar Summit, nothing was truly straightahead and traditional.  

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Dave Fiuczynski at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 2018

Dave Fiuczynski’s Micro Kif Jamz, at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 2018

Dave Fiuczynski at NuBlu, June 22, 2018

Dave Fiuczynski plays a lot of notes—in the sense that is usually meant and in another sense that is decidedly a path less traveled. For sure, his musical approach includes cleanly picked note barrages and long peaks-and-valleys jazz-fusion lines, but its most unusual salient feature is microtonality. Fiuczynski explores the notes between the notes of the twelve-tone equal tempered Western scale, drawing inspiration from a variety of both the scales of non-Western musics and the explorations of microtonal composers who fall under the broad classical umbrella.

Pretty much all guitarists are familiar with a little bit of microtonality. When you bend a note ever-so-slightly to get it to sound just like Eric Clapton, for example, that’s a tiny bit of microtonality.  Often transcriptions will notate these bends of less-than-a-semitone as quarter tones, though I kind of doubt that Clapton or the blues greats who inspired him intended anything so precise. More elaborate microtonality, however, is a game changer. Fiuczynski joked from the NuBlu stage that microtonal music sounds out of tune, and that’s not an unusual first impression. Microtonal music certainly sounds different from the styles of Western music that have found their way around the globe. Like many adventurous flavors, it starts out as an acquired taste. For some, acquired tastes become flavors they can’t live without.  

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Jazz-Rock-Funk Thowdown at the Alternative Guitar Summit, June 2018

Dave Fiuczynski’s MicroKif Jamz, at NuBlu, June 22, 2018
Adam Rogers at NuBlu, June 22, 2018
Harriet Tubman at NuBlu, June 22, 2018

The Alternative Guitar Summit announces itself as “a yearly festival of daring, inventive players who emphasize new and unusual approaches to the guitar,” and its Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown more than lived up to that promise. Held at NuBlu, on New York City’s Lower East Side, on June 22, the three-set bill boasted Dave Fiuczynski’s Micro Kif Jamz; Adam Rogers’s DICE; and Harriet Tubman, featuring Brandon Ross. Three-and-half hours of ear-bending, imaginative, guitar-centric exploration ensued, a celebration of some of the outer reaches of musical expression.

“Alternative” is one of those words that, I think, don’t mean much when applied to music. But, in this context, maybe it’s apt, since most of this music was out the broad wheelhouse of my listening. Some of it still is, while some it has found its place in my frequent listening. I found that writing about the individual performances required a noticeably different approaches, reflecting the state of my understanding and enjoyment of what each was up to.

All were totally worth the experience! It is good to have one’s ears stretched! This is the first in a three-part series. The pieces I’ve written here fall somewhere between reviews and reflections on the process of wrapping my head around new sounds or musical approaches. Please check out each short installment of the series, and be sure to click the links for performance videos, bios, and/or interviews!

Five Times Alex Skolnick Played on Someone Else’s Album

Alex Skolnick concentrates at the 55 Bar, Feb. 23, 2018

Alex Skolnick’s eclecticism is well-known. Recent projects in which he is a leader or principal player include his eponymous improvisational trio, the Alex Skolnick Trio; the current incarnation of Testament; metal-tribute-turned-original band, Metal Allegiance; and the acoustic, world-music exploring Planetary Coalition. Even with all this activity, Skolnick frequently extends his musical reach with contributions to projects led by others. I recently had the pleasure of hearing him sit in for two sets with Nathan Peck & the Funky Electrical Unit, at the 55 Bar. With Skolnick’s collaborative bent in mind, here are quick looks at a handful of his guest appearances:

“Atman,” on Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 11:11 (2009)

Nearly four minutes into “Atman,” the penultimate track on 11:11, Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Latin-acoustic-by-way-of-metal extravaganza, comes the most surprising moment of the track—an electric guitar solo, courtesy of Skolnick. The track is intense from the beginning, and Skolnick’s burning solo is its molten core. Massive bends and tremolo picked eruptions culminate in an epic chromatic rising-and-falling sequence.

Album cover for Rodrigo y Gabriela’s 11:11
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New Mike Stern album due September 7, 2017!

A new Mike Stern album will arrive on September 7, 2107. Titled “Trip,” it’s Stern’s first since a serious fall landed the esteemed jazz guitarist on the disabled list. Back on his feet now for a while, Stern offers “Whatchacallit” to prime his listeners for the new collection.