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Ross Hammond: Humanity Suite

Glenn Astarita By

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Guitarist Ross Hammond is building upon his conspicuous artistic persona as a new wave jazz and improvisational guitarist, composer who aligns with fellow West Coast denizens, including seminal Southern California based woodwind ace Vinny Golia and others. With a dozen albums under his belt, the guitarist has exponentially pushed the envelope, largely with great success. He also possesses an idiosyncratic style, where unanticipated curveballs, off-center phrasings and variable use of distortion techniques have become a primary component of his rangy articulations. Humanity Suite—reviewed on LP format—is one continuous, extended work that translates Hammond's emotive sensibilities into a long-form musical statement, providing stimulus for one's nerve-center.

The festivities open with thoughtful and poignant musings, accented by Hammond's gravelly-toned notes. He anchors and conducts the band as drummer Dax Compise uses his brushes to commence the journey, as the musicians participate in a similar manner to actors establishing their roles in a Broadway play. The piece contains loosely organized, anthem-like mini-grooves via measured buildups and stirring melodies that often underline the five-member horns section's animated solos, prismatic contrasts and steamy choruses. Hence, they open the floor amid areas that conjure similes to classical composer Eric Satie's quaint harmonic etudes.

The horn section helps soften the proceedings with an air of intimacy along with resonating solo and burgeoning cadenzas. They seldom segue into blitzing little big band forays, but two-thirds into this piece, the ensemble delves into lengthy free-improv passages atop bassist Kerry Kashiwagi's pungent ostinato stride, often enamored by warm horns charts. It's an inviting program with alternating pulses, sparring jazz-rock breakouts and the leader's brazen soloing spots, armed with budding tension and release patterns and a multitude of slick-picking maneuvers that aim for the proverbial jugular. Hammond's muse comingles convention with quirky detours, such as the madcap harmonica and drums dialogue, leading to the finale. In sum, the guitarist melds lyrically resplendent overtures, designed with alternating flows and equalized by memorably melodic content, yet keenly offset by his cunning flights of fancy into the avant-garde spectrum. (Required listening...)

Track Listing: Humanity Suite.

Personnel: Ross Hammond: guitar; Catherine Sikora: tenor saxophone; Vinny Golia: soprano saxophone, flute, bass clarinet, singing bowls, shakuhachi, M’Buot; Clifford Childers: trombone, euphonium; bass trumpet, harmonica; Kerry Kashiwagi: acoustic bass; Dax Compise: drums and percussion.

Title: Humanity Suite | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Prescott Recordings

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