There was a time when making progression with jazz guitar meant plugging in. Charlie Christian did this and took jazz guitar playing to a new level. But these days, the most radical thing a jazz guitarist can do is to plug out and play acoustically. While an endless number of electric guitarists explore a rock-oriented approach with plenty of effects, there are far fewer people who take the chance of playing with the naked honesty of an acoustic instrument. Mikkel Ploug has done it as an experiment on Alleviation (Songlines, 2017), but Chicago-based guitarist Tim Stine has made the acoustic guitar his instrument of choice.
Back in 2016, he introduced his acoustic trio with bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly on a self-titled record released on Astral Spirits. Fresh Demons is a refinement of the intriguing language they developed back then. For instance, "Talking faster" is a study in close communication that explores different tempi and textures. Stine's playing sounds like a cross between Django Reinhardt and Derek Bailey as he swings in the style of a dancing drunk man, taking surprising twist and turns and suddenly belting out with shredding guitar.
There is a tight sense of balance in the tune with Hatwich and Rosaly providing a relaxed swinging accompaniment that becomes a tight groove as Stine becomes more intense in his free-jazz gypsy guitar abstractions. He later returns the favor and plays a drone while Rosaly explodes in a solo that suddenly ends the piece.
Stine also takes the time to develop a repeated riff on "882223," again giving room for Rosaly's solo while the spacious ballad "OTR" allows the beauty of Hatwich's deep, woody bass notes to blossom. Elsewhere on "Watched Trains," the trio tackles the fast, energetic breaks of bop in their own downplayed and hiccupping style, with Rosaly inserting a glimpse of a heavy metal drum trope.
Fittingly, "Object" is the antidote to the dense expression of "Watched Trains." It has dusty dangling steel strings, bells and a slowly strolling bass. Where does the trio go? Nobody knows, but they never wander aimlessly. The eccentric melodies and rich and varied textures of this trio show the possibilities of taking the music back to its acoustic basics, only to blow up the tradition of the jazz guitar trio once again.