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Five From Four

Mike Jacobs By

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Welcome to the inaugural edition of BackTracks, where we look back at some notable albums that were somehow absent from All About Jazz's extensive 50,000 plus review archive (or are just plain worthy of another look). For the first installment we have five guitar-led projects from four artists that somehow got by us (but needn't get by you).

Zoot Horn Rollo
We Saw A Bozo Under The Sea
Self Produced
2001

There are some people who on first encounter tend to rub the wrong way. Yet over time, they can prove to be as intriguing and intelligent as they were initially abrasive. Gradually, what were their initial negatives eventually may become valued, even cherished for their changing of our own perspectives and years later, they are dear friends.

Especially for those unaccustomed to his previous work with Captain Beefheart, Zoot Horn Rollo's We Saw A Bozo Under the Sea can mirror that experience. What initially may seem off-putting about this album is actually what can inextricably suck one in over time. It's something of a bridge between Beefheart's Dada musical vandalism and exploratory electric jazz. Armed with slides, various baritone and electric guitars, amenably talented cohorts, (and a musical worldview forever altered by his former mentor), ZHR (Bill Harkleroad) made what is perhaps the ultimate album in this unique stylistic middle ground for dismantling the entrenched musical conventions of one's mind.

Mitch Stein
Five
Self Produced
2016

While building a reputation around NYC with his indie jazz/rock power trio The Hermanators, guitarist Mitch Stein bolstered it even more, playing with the likes of (Miles Davis keyboard alum) Adam Holzman's Brave New World, Tania Maria, and Bill Evans (saxophone) to name a few. His more noticeable personal trajectory into recent times has been playing in musical situations that project something of an instrumental jazz ethos into a rock vernacular— exemplified by his stints with the Steve Kimock Band and Jim Weider's Project Percolator. With Five, Stein continues to expound upon his vision of that amalgam with a satisfying, (largely) instrumental guitar-led album that is neither jazz, nor fusion, nor prog, nor guitar-slinger in nature— a stylistic achievement unto itself.



Steve Topping
Time And Distance
BlackBox
1998

Steve Topping
Late Flower
Quartz Music
2004

Owing to an odd combination of glowing praise from top players (including, from as far back as 1981, the late Allan Holdsworth) and a habit for falling off the recorded radar for long stretches of time, Steve Topping is a player that has danced around the edges of many guitar afficionados' awareness for decades. Aside from a smattering of sideman appearances and a few bootleg oddities, Topping's official recorded output to date amounts to a mere pair of releases under his own name— 1998's Time And Distance and Late Flower from 2004. But while getting your ears on either one of these albums certainly helps to understand what all the fuss is about, hearing just one may leave a somewhat skewed impression of Topping as an artist. Though both albums have rhythm sections comprised of Holdsworth alumni— (Gary Husband and Paul Carmichael on TAD, Husband and Jimmy Johnson on LF)—the results are quite different. Where Time and Distance is visceral, aural cinema verite (that makes no bones about its sometimes ranklingly acute angularity and stylistic leaps), Late Flower is ethereal, sublime and stylistically unified reverie—with Topping making use of virtual guitar technologies to achieve many of his ends. Each album appeals to different sensibilities and each elicits its own set of superlatives. Together they not only provide an intriguing stereoscopic view of an uniquely uncompromising artist but also leave a nagging thirst for further elaboration.

Nicholas Llerandi
Standby
Self Produced
2015

At times brash and spiky, at others thoughtful and intimate, Standby is a stubbornly hard-to-classify instrumental offering that owes as much to jazz as it does forward-thinking rock and djent. In just five tracks, former Stimpy Lockjaw guitarist Llerandi distills a host of wide-ranging influences into a formidable vehicle for his inspiring skill set (and those of his equally promising compatriots). The stunner "Memphis" (with its bracing improv from Llerandi) may alone make it worth seeking out this album but, as the persistent will discover, plenty of treasure awaits in the less immediately obliging tracks. As handily as Standby dodges accurate classification, it does sound like one thing for certain—a talented young player coming into his own.

Tracks and Personnel

We Saw A Bozo Under The Sea

Tracks: Got A Buzz On; Relocating Dirt—Life's Work; Miniature Mojo; Cowboy Coffee; Dancin' With The Doorknob; Temporary Tattoo; John's Eyes; Solo Below; Still Living With Mom; Detective Charlo; Church Of The Mowed Lawn; Don's Secret; Nice Patina; Elvis Beans.

Personnel: Zoot Horn Rollo: guitars, guitar synth; Gregg Bendiann: drums, vibes on 3, 7, 10; Dave Lucas: bass on 2, 5, 6, 9, 12, 14; Dave O'Toole: alto & baritone saxophones on 5, 9; Tony Proveaux: harmonica on 4; Brian Price: violin on 6, 12; Mark Schneider: bass on 3, 4, 7, 10, 11.

Five

Tracks: Hey Howz It Going?; Aggressive Tendencies; The Fire Guides; Ballz; How Should I Know; M&M; Wide Hipped Woman; Guru; Double Stomp; So Far Away.

Personnel: Mitch Stein: guitars, synths, loop filtering, vocals; Josh Dion: drums, vocals; Dave Richards: bass; Geoff Kraly: modular loops on 1, 3, 5, 7-10; John Medeski: B3 organ on 6 and 7, Wurlitzer on 7; Rob Clores: Moog, Wurlitzer on 3, synth on 5, clavinet on 9; Ryan Cavanaugh: banjo loops on 4.

Time And Distance

Tracks: Adrenalin; Amongst The Leaves; Renewal (I) & (II); Blueways; Watercolour; Son Of Spock; Fossil; Time And Distance; The Life Divine.

Personnel: Steve Topping: guitar; Paul Carmichael: bass; Gary Husband: drums, Wurlitzer solo; Mick Hutton: string bass on 5, 8; Paul Stacey: guitar intro on 4.

Late Flower

Tracks: Woody Chimer; Lost Song; Aigburth; Game Of Light; Strolling Boy; Jo; On My Hill...Late Flower.

Personnel: Steve Topping: guitars, synths, percussion on 2,7; Jimmy Johnson: bass; Gary Husband: drums, synth solo on 4; Frank Schaeffer: cello on 3,5.

Standby

Tracks: Cracked; Imperial; 21 Minutes; Memphis; Standby.

Personnel: Nicholas Llerandi: guitar; Francesco Beccaro: bass; Zach Marks: drums on 1,2,3; Jared Lippi: drums on 4,5; Kevin Theodore: piano on 4;

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