Adam Rogers’s DICE at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 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.
Dave Fiuczynski’s Micro Kif Jamz, at the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown, June 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.
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!
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.
I had the good fortune to catch the second set of the Sheryl Bailey Quartet’s February 2 performance at Fat Cat, in the West Village. In the same large NYC basement as dozens of people playing pool, ping-pong, Scrabble, table bocce, foozeball, and who-knows-what-else, guitarist-composer-leader Bailey guided pianist Jim Ridl, bassist Andy McKee, and drummer Sylvia Cuenca through a five-tune set of her originals.
Throughout the set, the band played with a clear, unexaggerated, almost-light-definitely-not-heavy attack. At no point do I recall them rising to a bashing, thunderous level. While their set was certainly not meditative, can-hear-a-pin-drop-in-space quiet, just as much it wasn’t a self-consciously loud set. They infused the set with energy, but without spending much time at the extremes. In this ensemble, that tendency, shared among all, did not result in anything that could be mistaken for middle-of-the-road background filler. I understood the avoidance of volume extremes as saying to those in the distraction-filled environment who chose to put the music first, “Stay focused! Listen The interesting stuff isn’t only at the extremes.”
The set consisted, in order, of “An Unexpected Turn,” “Lazy Dazy,” “What She Said,” “Last Night,” and “Starbrite.” Bailey gave each number a brief introduction. Most memorable were her intros to “An Unexpected Turn” and “Lazy Dazy.” The former, she related, was inspired by unpredictable and creatively satisfying run-ins with NYC jazz cats, including her quartet bandmates. “Lazy Dazy,” Bailey said, came to her in the aftermath of a rare day off—something, as a self-described “type-A” personality who needs to “get shit done,” with which she’s not entirely comfortable. The tune, which is as yet not to be found on any of her albums, does conjure some discomfort; its A and B sections have a playful, but somewhat awkward relationship. It’s not difficult for me to imagine Bailey as constantly busy, not only from her involvement in numerous projects, but from my observation that every time I’ve been to one of her gigs as the leader, she has performed a new composition. I’ve come to expect and look forward to hearing her new and unrecorded tunes at her gigs.
They didn’t explain their name, and I have no official word on this, but it seems to me that the name of the group could be a reference to the subtle, hard-to-notice variations in human interaction that are always happening yet never undermine communication, and without which we’d just be complicated machines. Maybe I’m stretching in my interpretation, but most, if not all, of the tunes in their set of six contained a twist on jazz bandstand conventions.
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.