The opening twangy guitar riff off the title track of guitarist Rick Peckham’s Left End suggests an edge usually associated with rock music, a feeling solidified by the propulsive groove of drummer Jim Black and bassist Tony Scherr (both with plenty of rock in their backgrounds) to push the leader’s statement further. And that’s just the first 30 seconds.
Peckham’s debut as a leader draws on early classic rock guitar influences for sound and attitude and infuses them with improvisational daring and sophisticated harmony. The resultant blend, in this capable trio’s hands, reminds listeners that “fusion” doesn’t have to be a pejorative word. This is exemplified on “353-1001,” when the group locks into the rollicking odd-time opening. After a guitar solo over the halting bass line and skittering drums, the tune devolves into a more spacious exploration of quiet dynamics and sonic textures, until Black rebuilds the quirky groove, returning the group to the head.
The mid-tempo feel of tunes like “Mr. Medium” and “You Know What That Means” feature Peckham’s more cleanly phrased and slick guitar runs. Open-formed pieces, including “Hawthorn” and “Soporific,” highlight the trio’s ability to coax an array of sound from their instruments and patience for subtle nuance. These qualities were evident at the group’s CD release show at Tonic last month, which allowed for extended improvisations. This was especially apparent in the middle of “Hammer Damage,” with Peckham meandering amid Scherr’s percussive bowing and Black’s assortment of toy bells and steel bowls. Also highlighted was how seamlessly Peckham changes his guitar sound—“Gibbons” went from a growling riff and aggressive rhythm to a mellower, moody section and back again without dropping a note or a beat.
Left End is a new chapter in the tradition of the “power trio.” Peckham’s concise composing serves an array of sonic textures and unexpected twists, with a healthy dose of attitude and wit.