Wayne Peet Quartet: Live at Al's Bar (2005)

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Wayne Peet Quartet: Live at Al's Bar
Some things are worth the wait. It's taken four years for Left Coast keyboardist Wayne Peet to mix this live recording from Al's Bar in Los Angeles, and another two to release it. But Live at Al's Bar—featuring guitarists Nels Cline and G.E. Stinson, along with drummer Russell Bizzett—is the kind of recording that never goes out of date. Filled with kinetic energy, it's best categorized as fusion, but its anti-solo approach makes for a refreshing change from the more chops-laden approach that often typifies the genre.

Not that there's any lack of virtuosity. Cline has always shown an encyclopaedic musical knowledge—as influenced by The Byrds as he is by Sonic Youth and John Coltrane. Capable of shredding with the best of them, his own records—notably last year's The Giant Pin—reveal a world view where blending the aesthetics of Jim Hall and Jimi Hendrix makes complete sense. But he's more interested in creating collectives than displaying frightening chops for their own sake.

Stinson may be even more texture-oriented than Cline, adding "mangled recordings to his own sonically altered guitar work here. Since first establishing his name with the more accessible Shadowfax, Stinson has since gone on to become a deeper part of the edgy Left Coast scene, operating in the same musical circle as others associated with labels like Cryptogramophone, Nine Winds, and pfMentum.

Peet is better known as an engineer on dozens of productions since the early 1990s. It's likely that his involvement on the recording side has resulted in his intrinsically self-editing, lean, and powerful playing style. Bizzett, essentially unknown outside the LA scene, is a true listening drummer, meshing perfectly with the open ears of Peet, Cline, and Stinson.

Live at Al's Bar has a clear precedent in the late drummer Tony Williams' Lifetime group with Larry Young and John McLaughlin, specifically the seminal fusion of Emergency! (Verve, 1969). Still, the group gives a sonic update to its similarly raw approach. The extended "Five Swirls and "Five Doors are more episodic jams than fixed compositions, the former being groove-centric and the latter more a sound collage, ranging from restrained to extreme. Still, despite the occasional full-frontal assault of Cline and Stinson, an ongoing sense of development makes for provocative listening. Noise improv groups like Wolf Eyes and Hair Police could take a few cues from this group about the value of contrast. Noise improv this ain't, but it shares some textural similarities.

Peet's riff-based "Inner Funkdom closes the set—the only track featuring conventionally delineated solos. Even so, it's more about effect than melody, texture instead of linear themes—although everyone solos with a firm sense of construction.

Wayne Peet's quartet isn't likely to play a venue near you, but thanks to Live at Al's Bar we can all experience what it was like, one night in 1999, to hear an electrifying group combine reckless abandon with big ears, open minds, and a firm desire to build ambient soundscapes transcending individual contribution.

Track Listing: Five Swirls: Swirl-Big Lumps-Soft Foot-Another Room-Points; Five Doors: Creepsville-Mellow-Surges-Driving Time-Cross Stick Coda; Inner Funkdom.

Personnel: Wayne Peet: organ, organ bass; Russell Bizzett: drums; Nels Cline: guitar (left channel); G.E. Stinson: guitar and mangled recordings (right channel).

Record Label: pfMentum

Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


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