Leading the trio known as DICE, guitarist Adam Rogers drew material from the group’s eponymous album for the second set of the Jazz-Rock-Funk Throwdown. 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.
Rogers’s signature in DICE is fitting unexpected stops, time shifts, and seriously pungent harmonic and melodic choices into what, in certain salient moments, looks, sound, and feels like a funky-bluesy rock-fusion power trio. Which is not to say that DICE isn’t that. It’s to say that the group has much more to offer than just that. For example, “Chronics “—which was the set opener at NuBlu—begins with a familiar sounding low-string slow blues-rock riffing and a minor pentatonic melody line, woven together with greasy slides. Its B section, however, is a slightly brighter, yet still melancholy, chord melody that leads into a pianistic conclusion that falls on the darker side of Beatle-esque, before returning to the pentatonic A section. Within the compositional structure, Rogers constantly plays with fine the detail of harmony, embellishment, and dynamics—subtle volume-knob tremolos and swells; runs of notes underlined with open strings; an urgent-but-not-overbearing volume build; the contrast between pick attack, finger attack, and pick-and-finger chordal moves. And, all that before the extended guitar solo! Roger’s soloing on “Chronics” incorporates way-out jazzy note choices while always keeping a secure kite-string to the changes. He knows how to take the listener with him on his outer flights, even when getting outside at high note density. (Disclaimer: This description, no doubt, owes as much to repeated listening to Rogers’s recorded version of “Chronics” as it does to his performance at NuBlu. I was a little familiar with Rogers’s DICE project before the Alt Guitar Summit, having seen the group once before at the 55 Bar and having listened to their album. Witnessing Rogers’s performance at the Alternative Guitar Summit brought me back to the album and to repeated listening to “Chronics,” in particular. Take that as testimony to one of powers of live music! The two performances, to my mind, are close relatives. I can no longer tell to which I’m reacting, but I’m very reasonably confident that the live performance I saw was neither a note-perfect recitation of the recording nor a radical departure from it. How cool it would be see some video of Rogers from June 22!)
Other highlights of DICE’s performance at the Alternative Guitar Summit included the tunes “Sea Miner” and “The Mystic.” With its Travis-picked, drop-D melodic head, “The Mystic” broke a bit from the “power trio” feel of the set’s other tunes. At the same time, Rogers’s alternating-bass self-accompaniment gave way, in the middle of the tune, to a new vamp, over which he improvised. “Sea Miner” juxtaposes dissimilar feels, jumping between, on the one hand, a variety of riffs reminiscent of the Hendrix-to-Frusciante funk encyclopedia to, on the other, playful, polychordal, dissonant interaction with bassist Ephron.
Rogers’s set was accessible and interesting, in compatible proportions. And, guitaristically thrilling, to boot! Rogers conveys a deep comfort with his instrument that enables him to let his ideas flow with feel. His solos, especially, are full of little pushes and pulls that create an additional subtle thread of motion within the band’s groove. To my mind, this was the set of the night, and its placement between two more seemingly self-consciously “alternative” sets subtly smoothed the flow of an event that was specifically intended to showcase challenging music.
A 2013 video of a full performance of “Chronics,” shot at the 55 Bar, in New York City’s West Village:
ADAM ROGERS “DICE” featuring FIMA EPHRON & NATE SMITH : LIVE @ COTTON CLUB JAPAN (Jun.1,2018):
A recent interview with Adam Rogers from GuitarThaiOnline: