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Zane Carney Quartet: Alter Ego

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Zane Carney Quartet: Alter Ego
While guitarist Zane Carney's work as a leader may have yet to experience the hype it arguably deserves, his session work is another thing. Among other projects, he has played on Thundercat's Drunk (Brainfeeder, 2012) as well as John Mayer's folk album Paradise Valley (Columbia, 2013), the Grammy award-winning Thundercat calling him "a massive guitarist." And, in the continued spirit of name-dropping, Carney formed the band Evan + Zane with actress (and incidentally good singer) Evan Rachel Wood, who might be best known for her role in the sci-fi series Westworld. On Alter Ego, however, the spotlight is on him. East coast-born but West Coastian by choice, the multifaceted guitarist's vision for jazz is unbound to genre or temperament, and lives out of the most-likely-sunny moment.

Carney's quartet features the highly experienced craft of woodwind player Katisse Buckingham and a tight Californian rhythm section made up of Jerry Watts Jr. on bass and Gene Coye on drums. With heft and an inkling for the rougher side of improvisation, the four conjure a flamboyant program that proves to be as grounded in jazz as in rock.

But things do not start off turbulent. The first couple of bars introducing "Brain Freeze" could fool one into expecting an atmospheric, ambient jazz program, tickling the ear with sweet flute sounds and echoing guitar chords. But those wishing for such a record would be disappointed only a short while later, when the entire band comes in to accompany Carney's downward spiralling, distorted guitar arpeggios. The savage display from a '90s Tarantino movie comes to mind as the group powers through this neo-western explosion which merges into a guitar vs. flute battle. It is as if the yodel from '70s prog rock group Focus' hit song "Hocus Pocus" is lurking just around the corner, ready to make its entrance.

The rock-edge groove and references continue throughout several instances on the record. On "Alter" Carney's guitar part sounds like something straight from a classic Led Zeppelin song, and even demonstrates the tone of a riff Jimmy Page never played. "Pitchfork" is carried by the elevated type of funk groove John Mayer has become known for, but is treated to quirky left and right turns along the way. Carney's self-customized Fender guitar, with Broadcaster neck and Telecaster bridge pick-ups, boasts depth and crunch, bringing rhythmic intricacy and melodic variety to otherwise straightforward jams.

Other cuts bring the full-throttle approach down a little but maintain a rockish flavor. "Lost" takes the shape of an alternative rock tune that threatens to spiral out of control, as Carney nimbly casts various rhythmic and comping spells into the mix. Buckingham's flute chops blow a fresh breeze into the rigorous set and add the kind of melodic ease and improvised notion the group dynamic begs for. More of a soloist than an interwoven part of the arrangement on some of the heavier outtakes, Buckingham adds limber swing to the jazzier excerpts of the record and truly blossoms there.

Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" and the Gigi Gryce-penned "Minority" belong to the light-hearted side of the set and also to the standout performances of the record. Here, improvisation and composition truly meet in the middle, seeing the musicians letting loose and delivering some of their best interplay. If one is not convinced of Carney's guitarist prowess up to this point (which would be an unfortunate oversight), then his bursting and popping solo halfway through "Minority" surely will change that.

Winding-down from the high-strung tension, "Things You Aren't" finds Carney presenting an intimate solo rendition of a cunning self-penned composition which highlights the range of his vocabulary and gentle touch. Performed on a Beale Street Blue Gibson Es-335, the chord-melody arrangement is probably the warmest thing the record has to offer.

Alter Ego presents a side to Carney's playing and composing that needs to be heard and explored more. Much nuance and color emanate from his strings, which appear eager to come up with new tricks at every turn. He is obviously a well-versed player and an unconventional composer, whose 2014 effort Amalgam was a mostly quiet, bluesy and successful effort at restraint, whereas Alter Ego represents a new beginning for his more extroverted instrumental ambitions.

Track Listing

Brain Freeze; Alter; Oleo; Lost; Pitchfork; Minority; Things You Aren't; Found; Ego.

Personnel

Zane Carney: guitar; Katisse Buckingham: flute; Jerry Watts Jr.: bass; Gene Coye: drums.

Album information

Title: Alter Ego | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Orenda Records


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