Look at one of Carl Filipiak’s hands, and the number of fingers will tell you how many albums he’s released under his own name. All of them, from Right On Time, to the recent compilation Peripheral Vision, are full of uncommonly wonderful music. If you want labels, the Baltimore guitarist’s muse has pointed him in the direction of Jazz Fusion; but if all you want is good music, follow Filipiak down the road that he’s staked out for himself. You’ll hear world-class writing, arranging, and – check all ten fingers now – guitar playing.
Filipiak adapts the lyricism of the great rock guitarists – Page, Hendrix, John Cippolina, Jorma Kaukonen – to the improvisational format of jazz fusion. The clincher in his immense talent is that he brings the structural and expressive approaches of a seasoned jazz musician to bear on everything he does, resulting in music that bristles with electricity, and satiates the senses. Borders Books in Newark, Delaware, has hosted Filipiak’s band for three consecutive years now, giving away for free the same great music heard at Filipiak’s recent sold-out engagement at Blues Alley, in Washington, DC.
The guitarist immediately added subtly kicking colors to the mid-tempo opener, “Sunrise.” Filipiak uses all manner of shading, from dynamics to tempo, to color and emotional hue. Jay Dulaney’s work showed him to be a bassist possessed of both graceful agility, and rock-solid strength. After being asked to “turn down” by a Borders staffer (upon which an audience member remarked, “There’s always Barnes & Noble!”), the band's “One For Wes” moved into jazzier territory. After the fashion of the great Montgomery brother who inspired it, the tune was driven by octave chords, moving into a slight reggae feel, to which Paul Soroka added incisive keyboard work.
“Brothers” took the light island tone of the piece further, as Filipiak’s punchy solo demonstrated what a master of dynamics he is. Both he and Soroka used wah-wah settings to drive “4 PM” through an impressive display of rhythmic ingenuity, Filipiak telling the crowd that the tune was “based on some changes I heard Pat Metheny play.” Here, Filipiak’s bent tones and soulful playing heightened awareness of what a superb blues player he is, and the tune was a highlight of the first set. Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” is a song that Filipiak has been playing for a number of years, and his finger-picked solo was full of flexing shapes, and cleanly executed runs that were chock-full of sonic information. Soroka’s Lyricon solo was hushed, clarinet-like, except for a great bottom-end growl at the end.
Drummer John Thomakos accentuated the snowy, post-Christmas Sunday afternoon with his bell tree on the opening section of “Purple Chickens.” A gutbucket feel took over behind Soroka’s tenor sax solo (this guy’s a real triple-threat), until the tremendous punch of a Hendrixian ensemble passage, in 15/8, took the audience’s collective breath away. Dulaney drew applause with his athletic, bluesy solo, and Filipiak’s snaky execution of the melody was impeccable.
Two more tunes drew the set to a close. Filipiak’s arrangement of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life,” inspired by Wes Montgomery’s treatment of the piece from an old A&M record, had the deep-fried economy of a Booker T. and The MG’s, and the wild psychedelicizing of the Sgt. Pepper’s-era Fab Four. Filipiak executed the tune’s famous orchestral buildup via slide guitar, and a wicked loudness that raised a few eyebrows in the store. In the final buildup of the tune, Filipiak alluded to the orchestral possibilities of heavy metal, with smart use of dynamics and massed volume. Ornette Coleman’s “Broadway Blues” was a perfect set closer, and a prime example of Filipiak’s ability to fuse jazz with the power play of rock’n’roll.