For the first album by the assistant chair to the guitar department at the Berklee School of Music, one might expect a heavily jazz-centric affair and, given Rick Peckham’s vintage, one that would be heavily informed by alumni like John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. And, to be sure, there’s a certain outward edge a la Scofield, and some reference to the skewed Americana of Frisell territory. But while Left End
may demonstrate these allegiances, they are just as much informed by classic rock guitarists including Jeff Beck, Free’s Paul Kosoff, Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, and Neil Young. The resulting blend is something that’s not quite rock, not quite jazz, but somewhere in the middle. And that’s exactly where Peckham wants it to be.
With a grungy tone that sounds at times like Robben Ford but with more attitude and less finesse, Peckham may think like a rocker, but he constructs like a jazzer. Tunes are often deceptive, with extra bars thrown in to unbalance things, as in “Shakey,” or in completely irregular meters, as in “353-1001.” There are even a couple of free improvisations that would be completely at home in the downtown New York scene. And that’s no surprise, given the presence of bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Jim Black in the trio.
Peckham may show himself capable of more advanced harmonic construction and oblique stylistic devices, but with a pervasive beat, rock and roll attitude and a recording that is at its best when played loud , Peckham does his best to combine the sound and feel of some of his formative rock influences with a looser improvisational nature. “You Know What That Means” has some drumming that would do Ginger Baker proud, but enveloping the somewhat straightforward ascending bass line are guitar parts with close voicings and less-than-predictable melodies.
Peckham, Scherr and Black sound like a power trio from hell, a strange confluence of warped elegance and periods of outright bombast. “Gibbons,” with its head-banging theme and Peckham wailing over Scherr’s pedal-tone and Black’s Bonham-style power drumming, is the closest things get to a straight rock rhythm approach. But then the group moves into more obscure territory with “Soporific,” where Peckham demonstrates a more angular side. There is even one more-or-less overt nod to the jazz tradition with the trio’s cover of Monk’s “Evidence” but, coming at the end of the record, it seems like more of an afterthought.
It should come as no surprise that Peckham teaches ear training at Berklee, as most of the guitar heroes who inform his work on Left End couldn’t read a note if you paid them. But coupled with the stylistic naiveté of those classic rock gods is a deeper musical knowledge; and that is what ultimately makes Left End such a satisfying listen.
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Track Listing: Left End; 353-1001; Mr. Medium; Shakey; Free 2; Gibbons; Soporific; You Know What That Means; Hammer Damage; Hawthorn; Real Time; Free 1; Evidence
Personnel: Rick Peckham (electric guitar), Tony Scherr (acoustic bass), Jim Black (drums)