Saturday, November 05, 2016

Things we like: Steve Hunter, Mary Halvorson, Richard Thompson, Larry Coryell

In the process of reacquainting myself with the guitar in preparation for Stoogeaphilia activity in December, I've been listening to good guitarists again (not that I delude myself that it'll help me).

If Steve Hunter had never played on anything besides Rock and Roll Animal (on which the famous "Sweet Jane" intro is his) and the eponymous LP by the Mitch Ryder-led early-'70s biker-rock archetype Detroit (which contains the cover of Uncle Lou's "Rock and Roll" that its author acknowledges as "the right way to play it," shades of Dylan/Hendrix "Watchtower"), he'd be a rock guitar immortal. In his maturity, Bob Ezrin's favorite sessioneer has developed into a finesse guy, sort of an American Jeff Beck, and I can't get the instrumental version of "Solsbury Hill" from his Manhattan Blues Project (yes, he played on the Peter Gabriel 'riginal) out of my head.

I need to dig deeper into Mary Halvorson's catalog. A recent NYT article provides some profound clues, in the way a '76 Bob Palmer piece in same journal pulled my coat to post-OC Don Cherry. For now, I'm still getting familiar with her 2015 solo joint Meltframe. While I find her distorted sound -- which kicks open the door on her album-opening Oliver Nelson-as-metal-Scarlatti reimagining of "Cascades" -- as unnerving as original Prime Time axe slinger Charlie Ellerbee's, her comfort with F/X like tremelo and what sounds to my tech-ign'ant ear like a Digitech Whammy is emblematic of how far "jazz guitar" has come since the older, invariably Italian music store dudes used to intimidate my tyro-tastic young self by playing chord melody like Joe Pass back in the '70s.

While Richard Thompson's guitarissimo has always been just one of several arrows in his quiver (singer, songwriter, folklorist), his fretwork has always fascinated me for the way in which it seems to invert all the conventions of blues-based rock soloing, and how inscrutable are his influences: I'm no expert, but I don't believe Brit folk music has any tradition of string bending and vocally-inflected solo lines. Bagpipe music, maybe? He's also the source of my affection for the "in-between" positions on a Stratocaster's pickup selecter switch. Still, not evabody's taste. In response to a Facebook post I made of an Unhalfbricking outtake of Fairport Convention's "A Sailor's Life," cut back when RT was still rocking the gold-top Les Paul, a young friend commented: "Gag. It killed me." Wha-wha.

While time hasn't been kind to fusion's exhibitionistic chops-mongering and super-session grandstanding, there was a time (before everyone that played with Miles Davis in the rock era went off to make bank) when jazz-rock was worthwhile listening for those of us of a certain bent. Larry Coryell was there firstest with the mostest, on Chico Hamilton's The Dealer in '65, with the trailblazing Free Spirits in '67, and Gary Burton around the same time. His "good jazz record" (in the same way as Sonny Sharrock's swan song Ask the Ages), 1970's Spaces, was cut with ex-Miles/future Mahavishnu Orchestra/Weather Report musos before all the hype started. He released a bunch of good records in '71: Live at the Village Gate (which Dallas DJ/muso Craig Shropshire correctly identifies as a Band of Gypsys homage, although on the closing number, an Axis: Bold As Love homage gives way to swirling electric raga), Fairyland (on which Coryell plays either sloppily or with abandon -- beauty is in the ear of the behearer -- over the ace R&B engine room of Chuck Rainey and Bernard Purdie), and Barefoot Boy (on which he and saxman Steve Marcus -- whose worthy Tomorrow Never Knows also features Coryell -- take a run at Gabor Szabo's "Gypsy Queen" with a percussion trio led by the estimable trap-kicker Roy Haynes that cuts Santana's on chops and fire, all because the bassplayer showed up late). In the fullness, his Eleventh House sounds more legit and less like ersatz Mahavishnu than they seemed when I saw 'em back in '74. But my favorite Coryell thang is probably 1975's The Restful Mind, on which he's acoustic and backed by musos from the band Oregon on a program that spans Euroclassicism, heartland spaciousness, and darker-toned excursions in the same way as another perennial at mi casa, Metheny and Mays' As Falls Wichita.

Before the li'l Stooge band practices for the first time in a long time, I plan to take in the Jim Jarmusch Stooges flick when it plays the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff for what I hope will be more visceral and spiritual inspiration.


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