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Chuck Hammer: Chuck Hammer: Blind On Blind

Peter Jurew By

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Award-winning composer, guitarist, recording artist and producer Chuck Hammer has been an active influence on the progressive music scene since the mid-1970's, working with Laurie Anderson, David Bowie and Tony Visconti, Nile Rodgers, and Lou Reed, with whose band he recorded and toured globally for several years. An early adopter of the Roland guitar synthesizer, Hammer has been a leading innovator on the edge of the rapidly evolving technology of sound production and engineering. While working with Reed, Hammer was exposed to the recording processes being used by George Martin at his A.I.R. studio in Montserrat, sophisticated sound creation that inspired his career-long exploration of the art and science of tone, texture and technology. An early example of his work can be heard in the layered "guitar choir" on the classic Bowie album, Scary Monsters. Further developing innovative concepts based on textural guitar as production technology continued to evolve, today Hammer is known in progressive music circles for a unique mode of layered composition he christened Guitarchitecture.

All of this background, and more, went into the creation of Blind On Blind, Hammer's first solo album in eight years, and a leap forward for him in terms of both the recording process and musical statement.

Fresh ideas were inspired, he says, from a lot of listening over the course of many months. "I listened intently to the current state of so-called downtown free jazz," he said. "I listened intently to the phrasing and note efficiency of Miles Davis and Teo Macero. And then I tried to synthesize all those ideas while extending the vocabulary by integrating deep studio into that lexicon."

He reached out to jazz and fusion musicians he felt would be best able to collaborate with him in realizing the concept and found them in Jamie Saft, on electric and acoustic piano and Hammond B3 organ; Jamaaladeen Tacuma, on electric bass; and Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin & Wood on drums and percussion. Hammer sent digital files to each player that contained individuals tracks he'd recorded on electric and acoustic guitars—jams on loose ideas that would serve as "beds" on which his world-class sidemen would lay down their own contributions to the composition.

From the tracks he received back from each musician, Hammer selected individual phrases and sections that sounded interesting and had meaning—even though those initial sections might have been unrelated or in different keys. Using Pro Tools, he began to combine, re-combine, and layer phrases as if they were sonic characters in a film. "I experimented with extreme editing over long months to develop extended context and mood, combining and re-combining entirely discreet sections—i.e. a bass line from one track and a keyboard chord from another. This has some relationship to cinema verite in the sense that the script—or in this case the song structure—began to take shape through improvisation. The phrases that sounded great stood out and were combined into a new structure."

Over time, after intense listening and editing, he began to build up longer sections from the re-combinations. He added free-form guitar to these sections—both electric and acoustic—and continued to edit, further developing and attempting to identify the moments that had emotional and sonic impact and meaning.

It was a blind process, musically speaking. "I did not force it to go in one direction or another. I followed it. The process was highly organic. The music began to compose itself, beyond any specific genre. In fact I was hoping to avoid anything genre-specific. I was looking for new terrain."

The musical effect Hammer and his masterful collaborators create is an ear-opening, seventy-six minute cinema verite "soundtrack;" it's a tone painting with splashes of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew coloration—Hammer's textured guitars replacing Miles Davis' trumpet—that consistently opens into new musical territory. While Blind's harmonic, melodic and rhythmic pleasures are best appreciated as a unified statement, the album contains numerous high points, including the third cut, "Snow Blind Twilight," that showcase the beauties of Hammer's concept while hiding the painstaking nature of the process: electric piano and percussion set grooves that are joined by B3 organ; somewhere far off, electric bass digs in; scrunchy textured electric guitars play over and under and along with the piano and percussion, their vibrato and sustain and bent notes anchoring and unifying into a deeply tasty ambient treat.

Summing up both the music and the recording process, keyboardist Saft calls the album "a complete game changer." Tacuma—whose distinguished career includes years with Ornette Coleman—opines, "I don't say it lightly, but this music is epic—one of the most exciting, creative recording highlights of my career."

Track Listing: Knowing Nerve; A Little Cosmos; Snow Blind Twilight; Zoonotic; Ghost Orchid; Tilt; Under Cold Sky; Nabta Playa; Darkened Seas/Recombinant; Per Se; Steppe Nomad; Invisible Somber; Heresy Primitive; Equally Naked Heart.

Personnel: Chuck Hammer: guitars and textures; Billy Martin: drums and percussion; Jamaaladeen Tacuma: bass; Jamie Saft: Rhodes, B3, piano.

Title: Chuck Hammer: Blind On Blind | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Ava Interact


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