GToD #3–Gilad Hekselman—“Stumble,” from Ask for Chaos (2018)

In under one year, New York-based jazz guitarist Gilad Hekselman has released two strong collections as the primary artist: Ask for Chaos (September 2018) and Further Chaos (May 2019). Each features tracks by two ensembles that Hekselman leads. His GHex Trio consists of Helselman’s guitar, accompanied by stand-up bass and drums. In ZuperOctave, Hekselman takes charge of both of guitar and bass in a setting that also includes keyboardist Aaron Parks and drummer/percussionist Kush Abadey. With Hekselman making liberal and dramatic use of effects and his bandmates also embracing electronics, ZuperOctave finds startling and original sonic territory. It’s electronically-touched organic music that is, above all, jazz. More specifically, it’s sonically exploratory, harmonically adventurous jazz that doesn’t sound to me like what is usually called “fusion,” for the lack of rock-oriented beats. The track “Stumble,” from Ask for Chaos, is one among many ZuperOctave highlights.

“Stumble” arrested me immediately with its memorable opening melodic figure and a lush sound so whole it’s sometimes hard to tease apart Parks’s keyboards from Hekselman’s guitar.

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GToD #2: Baroness– “Seasons,” from Gold & Grey (2019)

The music of Baroness centers on guitarist/vocalist/songwriter/visual artist John Baizley, who is one of those people who can smile and still radiate heaviness. While the tracks released ahead of the June 14 release of Gold & Grey bear his unmistakable stamp, the band’s current lineup offers power and flexibility not heard even on its high-water mark album, 2012’s Yellow & Green or its acclaimed follow-up, Purple.

A case in point is “Seasons.”

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GToD #1: Stray Cats–
“Rock This Town,” from Built for Speed (1982)

The Stray Cats breakout track and video hit may well be the defining track of the first wave of retro rock. It’s now a classic in its own right. Brian Setzer masterfully accompanies his throwback-cool vocals with clean-toned, slapback-echoed guitar moves that include jazzy sliding chords; rockabilly triads extended with sixths; and two tight, confident solos—not to mention a motor of a main riff. Released decades after the peak of rockabilly, “Rock This Town” might have seemed, at first, like the product of one more group of costumed MTV opportunists, but Setzer, along with bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom, showed confidence that rockabilly was as enduring and vital as a lovingly cared-for 1950s hot rod with a tank full of fuel.

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Typical Sisters — Hungry Ghost

On Hungry Ghost, released March 2019, Typical Sisters explores avenues for creating urgency beyond of the borders of well-defined genres. The more I listen to Hungry Ghost, the more I hear jazz in a generalized way and the less I hear anything like a bebop line.  If one has to categorize this album, it probably makes most sense to call it jazz, but it’s jazz in the sense of connecting to jazz tradition and not in the sense of sounding like traditional jazz. That insufficient characterization shouldn’t suggest that Hungry Ghost is generic. Typical Sisters sophomore album is an expansive, challenging, and rewarding collection that reveals progressively deeper charms through repeated listening.

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Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival returns in 2019!

A look back at some of Clapton’s past Crossroads performances . . .

With the announcement that Eric Clapton is again firing up the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2019, it’s worth taking a look back at some of his previous Crossroads performances. 2019 will bring the fifth incarnation of Clapton’s festival, which benefits the Crossroads Centre, a substance-abuse treatment facility he founded in the late 90s. Earlier Crossroads Festivals were held in 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013. The festival always includes a variety of top-notch guitar talent, of course, but I’m choosing to focus on Clapton himself in the link selections below.

Here’s a thought I’ve been having for a while about Clapton’s live performances:

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Play It Loud @ the Met! 4/8/2019 to 10/1/2019

Exhibit to feature 130 historic instruments

Happily and unsurprisingly, there will be plenty on display to fascinate and inspire guitarists and fellow travelers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s soon-to-open exhibit, Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll. The exhibit opens April 8, 2019 and runs through October 1, 2019.

The Met, of course, is stunning at all times. With this exhibit, it will enter realms of awesomeness it has explored little, if at all. Nowhere else will you be able to see this:

and this:

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Afro-Polka All-Stars—55 Bar, December 30, 2018

Featuring guitarists Sheryl Bailey and Anders Nilsson

From left to right, Jerome Harris, Anders Nilsson, and Sheryl Bailey.

Drummer/composer/world-music explorer Maciek Schejbal’s Afro-Polka project is based on the inspired, if unlikely, idea that polka, elements of African pop, and jazz guitar improvisation can be fused into a complementary whole. On the penultimate night of 2018, Schejbal, bassist Jerome Harris, and the potent guitar team of Sheryl Bailey and Anders Nilsson realized Schejbal’s thesis.  Throughout three sets in front of a Sunday night, early-show, standing-room-only crowd, the Afro-Polka All-Stars explored the landscape of a new musical moon—one that offers frequent surprises, while also maintaining contact with the ears of ordinary Earthlings.

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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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Jacky Vincent–Life Imitating Art: V12 guitar engine meets synths & beats

Jacky Vincent – Life Imitating Art

Times not recommended for listening to Jacky Vincent’s Life Imitating Art: basically anytime you want to chill. It’s not that the late-era Shrapnel Records alum is relentlessly hyped through his whole new album—relaeased August 31, 2018—but he never goes long without cranking open the throttle on his seeming V12 guitar engine. Even on the less bombastic tracks within the 40 minute collection, there’s relatively little that can reasonably be called “unhurried” or “restrained.” Nonetheless, for those familiar with Jacky Vincent from his work in the bands Falling in Reverse and Cry Venom (post-hardcore and power metal, respectively), Life Imitating Art is a different intensity.

Album opener “Awakener,” “Nowhere to Look but Inside,” and “Soul Shines Through,” all incorporate big synth sounds that would be at home in a dance club or at an arena-pop show. In some places, I wondered whether he is using a guitar-synth controller of some kind.  Replete with sudden shifts in texture; staccato heavy rhythm guitars sparring with complex synths; a neoclassical breakdown; and a brief breakneck solo excursion over a pumping dance beat, among other sections, “Awaken” lays it on thick from the start. There’s a lot of motion and contrast in the tune, and I could see Vincent going over well performing music like this on a bill with EDM acts and lots of bright lights. Nothing else the album throws in the kitchen sink quite as hard, perhaps for the overall good of the album, but each of the synth heavy tracks features interesting textures and shifts. The synth soloing on “Nowhere to Look but Inside” sounds like it could have been done with a guitar-synth controller; some of the synth lines are shaped much like Vincent’s often deployed sweep moves. With abundant guitar harmonies and high note-density runs, and with contemporary touches in lower proportion than in the album’s first two tracks, “Soul Shines Through” and “Grand Uppah” both veer into classic Shrapnel territory. Vincent’s chops are both undeniable in themselves and a key piece of the adrenaline-hyped mood he creates. Arguably the signature mood of Life Imitates Art, Vincent’s energy is thrill-ride, skateboard-getting-some-air, killer gymnastics routine, TIE-fighter battle variety; there’s little-to-no darkness to be found, something that separates Vincent’s music on this album from the gothic currents of many of the Shrapnel Records classics. Also contributing to the upbeat vibe of these tracks is the eschewing of frequency-eating, down-tuned, distorted rhythm guitars; Vincent’s charge is more power metal than djent.

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The Posies Do Not Suck

The Posies Do Not Suck

Someone once told me a story about a bunch of college friends who had an inside joke around the line “The Posies suck.” If I understood correctly, this bunch had seen an early, raw, and, no doubt, very cool Nirvana show at their college, and, as a result, viewed themselves on the cutting edge of where rock was headed in the early 90s. The Posies, who played the same college circuit, were less of the moment. With the signature vocal harmonies of principal members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, the Posies were never really a grunge band, even when they turned up their guitars and stomped their fuzz pedals more frequently in the 90s. However, there has never not been a time when they put the power in their power-pop with soulful, creative guitar playing. On the road for a big chunk of 2018, and having appeared recently in New York City, the Posies are still not of the moment, but they endure heartily with their core intact.

Regardless of what a bunch of proto-hipsters may have thought, the Posies do not suck. Now well into their third decade working together, Auer and Stringfellow are most recently out with Solid States, a new album that may be their best collection of songs since their underappreciated 1993 classic, Frosting On the Beater. (Solid States was released April 29, 2016—this is a new edit of a piece written in 2016.) The Posies have always been poppy, in the best sense. At their best, a Posies record flows from hook to hook. Solid States is no change in this respect; the songs are well-structured, melodic, and catchy. There may be stray hints of prog and art rock (“The Sound of Clouds”), but there are no long jams or meandering ambient grooves.

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