After a run of intriguingly fresh sounding records, starting with 2006 set Splitlife
(Smalls Records), up to the most recently released Homes
(Jazz Village 2015), New York-based guitarist Gilad Hekselman seems to have widened his musical soundscape even further by pursuing a multitude of different new projects, ultimately proving himself one of the most innovative voices in jazz guitar today on his newest outing Ask for Chaos
. As of recently, his two main touring units have been his more regular trio featuring Rick Rosato
on bass and Jonathan Pinson
on drums, and a slightly more experimental outlet touring under the name of ZuperOctave, featuring Aaron Parks
on keys and Kush Abadey
taming the sticks.
When referring to a "more regular trio" one mustn't by any means confuse the term with a trio confined to certain jazz standards in repertoire or style. No matter what endeavors Hekselman undertakes, he doesn't abide by any specific rules, but instead completely delves into whatever he feels sounds good. So it comes all the less surprising that he has decided to break free from institutional chains and release the object of this review under his own new label, Hexophonic Music, in collaboration with Motema Music. Also in the spirit of "breaking free," Ask For Chaos
compiles songs from both of the above mentioned trios and shows the Israel-native guitarist from his boldest and most courageous sideintroducing an entirely new sound to the already distinct Hekselman apparatus.
The record picks up where its predecessor left off, but integrates more recent additions to Hekselman's live repertoire and doesn't shy away from a slightly more modern and electronic approach. The opening few second segment entitled "Prologuoooo1 101" demonstrates one of those newer live accessories, which has been applied extensively in both trio constellations, namely the Boss OC3 Super octave pedal, virtually splitting his guitar in two and in consequence making a bass guitar simulation possible. "VBlues" starts off with electronic drum sounds before the main melody sets in, played by guitar and piano in unison. The song takes off for a long jam as soon as the drums kick in and the melody turns into a constantly recurring ostinato. Again, the bass sound reappears and widens the arrangement. Hekselman and Parks alternate at taking the responsibility of the bass during the entire session, so that the listener can't always be sure who
is actually playing when
. Seeing how the harmonic structure of the piece is rather simple, the two take the opportunity to solo in most melodic manner, creating straight forward rock vibes, which, up until now have been quite absent from Hekselman's past recordings but striking at live sets.
"It Will Get Better" follows a slightly more conventional approach for Gilad Hekselman and wouldn't have sounded misplaced on either Homes
or Hearts Wide Open
(Le Chant Du Monde 2011). It is within the slowly paced harmonic progression that one might find similarities to other compositions of his. Another characteristic, not seldom encountered in the guitarist's discography, is a tendency to delay the final cadence for as long as possible, making the returning point of the melody to the tonic sound all the more liberating and accomplished. Beyond the above, the melody is of highly melancholic nature, spreading a paradoxically fragile feeling of ease.
After taking that look back, ZuperOctave picks it up and takes a giant leap forward, introducing one of Hekselman's most progressive and edgy tunes on record to date. Starting out with highly syncopated and untransperant rhythmic interplay between bass (keys), drums and guitar (transcribed by the creator himself in 5/4), "Tokyo Cookie" sees the keyboard laying open chords on top at off beats, waiting for the guitar to join in with staccato motifs. All instruments dynamically grow closer and faster together until they actually catch up with one another in melody and timing. The dynamic depth and challenging drive exhibited here is of a rare kind.
After an introduction to the gentler side of ZuperOctave on "Stumble," "Milton" demonstrates Hekselman's appreciation for Brazilian musician Milton Nascimento
and finds Rosato and Pinson delivering most percussive interplay. The intense rhythmic texture of the song is further enhanced by the addition of quiet acoustic guitar overdubs, therewith most colorfully painting in this Latin-flavored excursion.
One of the many highlights of the record, "Home To You," puts on display all the ingredients that make Hekselman's compositions, on this record especially, so intriguing. A sweet melody is laid over an even sweeter harmonic progression, which, in the verses, is contrasted by an almost humorously jumpy bass line. Hekselman and Parks trade some of their most telling lines with much ease. Not only does the debut addition of a piano on one of Hekselman's records enhance his already fluent melodic delivery on guitar, but the different synthesizer sounds applied throughout create a further layer, enrichening the compositions at their most colorful moments.
"Little Song For You" is evocative of the introduction to predecessor Homes
or the small Intermezzi entitled "Newsflashes" on This Just In
(Jazz Village 2013). A multitude of chord changes at a fast pace are accompanied in an improvised way by double bass and drums.
Mainly constructed around two electronic clap sounds -"Clap Clap" -Gilad Hekselman introduces another fine ostinato which lives off of a call-and-return phrasing. Parks adds the harmonies by means of various synthesizer soundscapes while simultaneously taking on the bass duties. Kush Abadey organically blends drum kit and electronic pads, giving the production much appreciated depth.
"Do Re Mi Fa Sol," also dubbed "a love song to music" by its maker, closes the album on a sweet and folky note. Not only does whistling accompany the main melody in the chorus, but halfway through, a string arrangement (arranged by Petros Klampanis, performed by Duncan Wickel) further amplifies the, arguably intentionally, exaggerated charm of it all.
While both trios present on this recording are highly enticing in their own right and certainly deserving of two separate entire records, releasing works of both on one is a bold move and turns out to be Hexelman's best idea yet. While his past outings are all of high quality and filled with much enjoyable material, Ask For Chaos
finds Hekselman at his most focused, fun and approachable. Here, the alternating instrumentation and the courage to give heavy and more aggressive sequences the rite of passage, makes for a highly diverse record which will, without a doubt, see many jaws drop.