Skip Heller is a West Coast Uri Caine with a much more wicked sense of humor. That comparison should be flattering to both parties, as they were friends growing up on the jazz fertile street of Philadelphia. Both men like to apply jazz, or simply music, if you will, in the most unlikely places. Ever searching, The Battle in Seattle
finds Mr. Heller traveling North from his Hollywood home to Seattle Washington to...
Hook up with an amazing rhythm section that plays together all the time, have about ninety minutes of rehearsal, and hit the world’s smallest stage...[playing] a bunch of tunes you like but never played...
That is the Wild West spirit. The mark of a good musician is to be able to show up and perform the old standard in any key. Mr. Heller takes this thinking one step further and throws in the added thrill of performing a set of songs singularly by the seat of his pants.
It is very much to his credit, and an illustration of his considerable talent, that everything comes off so well. Instead of supporting songs off of his most recent recording, Mr. Heller elects to devote his attention to songs associated with Prince, Miles Davis, Dean Martin, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson Five. He does contribute one composition, a blues called "Emiko."
The Battle in Seattle
documents what Heller contends is the way his guitar playing really sounds. If this is so, he has much to be proud of. The music is as fresh as a spring strawberry bursting on the roof of your mouth, bristling with ideas, some clever, some genius. Prince’s "Sometimes It Snows In April" is transformed into an organ-guitar jazz ballad, equal parts surf guitar, Joe Pass, and Danny Gatton.
"Freddie The Freeloader" is taken at a fast clip and incorporates Heller’s world view effectively by passing through a dozen or so guitar styles before ending. His band, Dose, is a great supporting cast of crack rhythm-meisters. Doria’s organ playing is understated and refined. He effectively displays his chops without showing off. John Wicks is the next "Funky Drummer." His beat on Stevie Wonder’s "Fun Day" is relentlessly infectious.
The highlight is Heller’s cover of "Never Can Say Goodbye." He transforms this Motown classic into a rapturous anthem of rock, blues, soul, R&B, country, and, of course, funk. Mr. Heller’s guitar playing is very urbane and classy and only in a few places... "completely unhinged like a bastard child of Cecil Taylor and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson." But, then again, that is the gravy.
For more information, see Skip Heller .