A whole bunch of very accomplished guitarists out there have styles can be described cursorily as lying within a triangle that has John Scofield
, Pat Metheny
, and Bill Frisell
at its vertices. There's nothing wrong with this. Scofield, Metheny, and Frisell are amazing, prolific, and highly influential. And even within these confines, there's a lot of music to explore. On Negative Spaces
, guitarist Cameron Mizell
(not to be confused with the record producer of the same name) really owns the whole Scofield-Frisell-Metheny-influenced, earthy, down-home bluesy jazz-rock thing. His is a fresh look at what many consider a tired and hackneyed sub-genre (that "many" I just referred to... they're wrong, by the way).
The main difference between Mizell and the faceless rabble of other similarly accomplished jazz-rock-blues guitarists is that he's a sharp-minded and witty composer and arranger with a knack for writing gritty, funky tunes with hooky melodies. This is the sort of stuff that's whistle-able or hum-able, yet substantial. And about that title; it refers to something that comes up in the album's humorous (self-penned?) liner notes that's pure gold. One makes "meaning through a pattern of negative spacesa poetry of precise absences." Mizell, aided by a proficient, supremely tasteful, and big-eared keyboardist and drummer, truly takes this dictum to heart.
Despite the album's sharp stylistic focus, the tunes are pleasantly varied and not at all straightforward. The album, taken as a whole, is very much along the lines of Joel Harrison
's wonderful Mother Stump
(Cuneiform Records, 2015). Negative Spaces
is dominated by a clutch of wittily-conceived funky down-home jazz-rockers. "Yesterday's Troubles" grafts a second-line rhythm onto a down-and-dirty blues riff. The Scofield- esque "Take The Humble" is enlivened by Kenneth Salters' super-cool oddly syncopated, popping drumbeat. "Get It While You Can" is a triumphantly funky strutter that evokes Sco,' albeit in the most appealing way. "Barter" and "Whiskey for Flowers" are heavy groovers fueled by Latinesque rhythms. "Unfolding" is a sweet and sunny countrified piece that sounds a little bit like something the 70s jazz-rock band Sea Level
would do. Each of these tunes leave plenty of space for Mizell and Whiteley to do their respective, and highly appealing, improvisational things.
For sheer contrast, there are some spacy, almost post-rock type pieces on Negative Spaces
that could point to future musical directions for this fascinating band to explore. The title tracks (there are two of them) are slow- moving and somewhat spooky rubato pieces. "Negative Spaces I" segues into the anthemic "Big Tree" which sounds like the Allman Brothers covering Explosions in the Sky. Whiteley's piano is front and center on "Negative Spaces II" which sets the stage for the album's most enigmatic piece, "Echoing, Echoing." The first half of this track has a wonderfully dark, doom- laden feel as Salters' drums and Brad Whiteley's varied analog keys whirl like a dust devil around Mizell's reverbed guitar. Then, out of nowhere, they shift into a Booker T & the MGs
styled funk jam. It's a bizarre transformation, and perhaps a bit of a misstep. At any rate, with Negative Spaces
Cameron Mizell has created an album that strangely lingers in the mind and in one's CD changer.