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Vic Juris: Omega is the Alpha

John Kelman By

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With so much attention paid to established guitar stars like Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell, and the next generation of six-string innovators like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Adam Rogers and Ben Monder, it's no surprise that there are some incredible jewels hiding in plain sight. One such gem is Vic Juris, a guitarist who, if technical aptitude, musical breadth and a vivid, unfettered imagination were the determining factors, would be a household—well, jazz household—name as well. His work, for two decades, with Dave Liebman's group, has been beyond exemplary; as much a defining voice as that of the veteran saxophonist himself on albums including the recent Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010) and 1995 archival find, Live at MCG (MCG Jazz, 2009). His own records—ranging from the layered and stylistically far-reaching Blue Horizon (Zoho, 2004) to the more direct and straight-ahead A Second Look (Mel Bay, 2005)—capably support claims that Vic Juris is the best guitarist that far too few have heard.

Like Second Look, Omega is the Alpha is a blowing record, but stretches farther, with a set of Juris originals, a couple standards, and—rescuing hard-edged free-jazzer Albert Ayler's title track from obscurity—all the proof needed of Juris' relentless out-of-the-box thinking. Juris reinvents Ayler's tune with an opening swell of delay and volume pedal-driven chords, an ethereal introduction that leads to a gentle, rubato theme more redolent of Pat Methenys Midwest than Ayler's leftist extremes. Bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum are equal partners, as Juris' loops create an atmospheric backdrop for the guitarist's tart lines, moving in, out and around the key-driven, but no-changes/no-time improv.

If there's a bigger name with whom Juris can be compared, it's John Abercrombie—not in any stylistic or textural fashion, but in Juris' ability to assert a voice without relying on signature phrases or any kind of predictability. Instead, it always seems fresh, in-the-moment and connected to the broadest possible tradition, whether it's his relaxed, harmonically sophisticated steel-string acoustic guitar work on his waltz-time ballad, "Subway," or the more propulsive yet somehow still unhurried "Folksong," where the guitarist's ability to self-accompany, even at brighter tempos and in the midst of higher velocity melodies, is virtually unparalleled. An eternal guitar student, Juris' technical acumen—ranging from chiming, Lenny Breau-like harmonics to rapid-fire, palm-muted runs—never runs the risk of being an end in itself. Instead, as he demonstrates an equally powerful command over effects—pulling a harmonizer in at just the right moments during his solo to "Folksong"—Juris' focus is always the music, soloing with remarkable compositional focus and vivid construction.

That Juris is working in an open-ended trio setting with two players of like-minded intent and similarly undervalued status, only makes Omega is the Alpha an even more exceptional album. Representing Juris, Anderson and Nussbaum at their freewheeling best, it's also a sure bet as one of this year's finest guitar sets.

Track Listing: Folksong; Hallucinations; For Shirley; Omega is the Alpha; Subway; Romulan Ale; Lonely Woman; Sweet Sixteen; Rosario; Alone Together.

Personnel: Vic Juris: guitar; Jay Anderson: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

Title: Omega is the Alpha | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: SteepleChase Records


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