If you came to become a fan of jazz after looking for something more interesting than rock and roll, then your instrument of lure is probably the guitar. That’s how I got into it; I couldn’t believe a guitar could sound as exciting and exotic as that by the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. After him, all rockers seemed tamed by comparison. Here are four recent release that have the axe in formats that go from solo to duet to trio. From electric to acoustic and back, and from being the lead, to being an equal to being an accompaniment. Happy picking!
Electric guitarist Chirs Biesterfeldt teams up with Matthew Rybicki/b and Jared Schonig/dr for thirteen swinging pieces that snap like crisp lettuce. He spotlights hard bop pieces by pianists Horace Silver, Ray Bryant and Phineas Newborn Jr, and each tune is a relentless joy. Old school swing a la Les Paul is hinted at on tunes such as “Cookin’ At The Continental” and “Harlem Blues,” and then Biesterfeldt lets the groove get hip-ly exotic on a slithering read of “Caravan.” He shows a graceful touch on the more mellow pieces such as “Sweet and Lovely” and “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set,” but you can tell the reins are held deeply in the bit, as he the lets out and kicks up his heels on a burning read of “Manteca.” This guy can work a room!
Toulouse Engelhardt sounds like he had the baton passed to him from Leo Kottke, as he makes both merry mirth and mincemeat out of his 12 string guitar. Rich picking is felt on the pastoral “Nierka” while the strings go flying in all directions on the frenetically frantic “Them to the First Annual Bluebell Lizard Roundup” or the quasi flamenco “Dom Perignon” while “Dialogue With An English Rill” will make you think you’re listening to a Greek movie at twice the speed. He can also make with delicacy, with a gorgeously pastoral “Golden Apple Vacancy” as well as an glowing “Lady of the Light.” You feel like you’re listening to a master at his craft on this mix of technical prowess and lyrical yet humorous delivery. The gauntlet has been thrown down!
Joakim Berghall actually doesn’t even play the guitar. He’s a master at all the reeds, and teams up in duet forms with ten, count ‘em, ten different guitarists, and almost as many different types of guitars. The mix and match is fascinating in itself, but it’s not used as a gimmick. Yes, there is some intermittent extroverted improvisation between sax and guitar at times, such as on the semi-free form Tunnel wit electric guitarist Markus Pesonen. But most of the time you get delicate and intimate conversations as soprano sax and dainty pickings meet with Teemu Viinikainen meet on ”Portraits And Landscape” or a rich tenor with chiming strums and picks with Timo Kamarainen on “Virtaukia II.” An intriguing mix of steel guitar and soprano sax work wonders on “Sarastus” and baritone sax and guitar create a rich thick molasses of sounds on “Absence.” An excellent example of diversity and experimentation yet completely lacking in self absorption.
Two of the most important of the “younger” guitarists, Julian Lage and Nels Cline, get together for an impressive summit meeting. I’ve been a sucker for guitar duet albums since the days of Lonnie Johnson and Carl Kress, and this one comes off like a 21st Century version of those early casual get togethers. They go both acoustic and electric here. You get some slick interplay with unison lines on the clever “Racy” and a bit of the free form “what’s next” feel on “Waxman.” They develop an interesting two way conversation on the mult-mooded “Freesa/The Bond” which gently glows like orange embers. They can get a bit feisty as well, mixing and matching colors and tones on “Amenette” while “Odd End” shows deep concentration between the two gents as they play with tricky meters, yet making it sound like your riding down a water slide. These guys are coming to LA January 17 at Largo; make sure you don’t miss this gig. It’s going to be a highlight for the year.