Approaching seventy, Jerry Granelli's career has been defined by exploration and stylistic diversity. Forget that he's the drummer on pianist Vince Guaraldi's classic A Charlie Brown Christmas
(Fantasy, 1965). Consider, instead, his own discography, ranging from the pop deconstructions of his twin-guitar UFB group and the freer complexion of his duet records with clarinetist Jeff Reilly and keyboardist Jamie Saft, to the remarkable Sandhills Reunion
, where spoken word and arrestingly cinematic musical form and freedom are compellingly combined.
The Sonic Temple documents Granelli's V16 group on two consecutive nights at the 2006 Atlantic Jazz Festival in Halifax, Canada. Like UFB this is a twin-guitar project, but it's a far less structured affair. Granelli is joined by his son, bassist J. Anthony, whose Homing explored roots material with a more expansive and idiosyncratic approach. Guitarist Christian Kögel has intersected with the senior Granelli in UFB and on Sandhills, while David Tronzo has been making a name for himself as a remarkably unfettered and exploratory slide guitarist in a variety of contexts. Both nights feature identical sets, but placing them side-by-side on this double-disc set simply highlights the group's liberal approach to everything it touches.
That's not to say there's a lack of structure; only that it's so fluid that conventional concepts like changes and rhythm are, at times, amorphous. J. Anthony's tone poem, "Ballad of El Leo Nora, emerges gradually, with both Kögel and Tronzo creating sweeping textures that gradually coalesce. Tronzo's "Immeasurable finds Granelli Sr.'s brushwork generating rhythm, but the cued pattern that acts as a basis for alternating fills from the two guitarists seems strangely at odds. Kögel's "Riddim is open in yet another way; abstract until the very end, when a spare melody materializes.
V16 may not be a rhythmically propulsive group for the most part, but its take on the James Brown classic "It's a Man's World demonstrates an ability to get down with a visceral groove when it wants to. Not since Bill Frisell's version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine, on East/West (Nonesuch, 2005), has an ostensibly jazz group expanded on an R&B tune's hidden potential so successfully. Tronzo, in particular, enriches the possibilities of slide guitar with a language that's both deep and soulful.
Of the two nights, the second is slightly more energetic. That's not to say it's better, but that V16 is simply responding to the myriad of influences that make one night different from the next for a group that's clearly out on a limb with every performance. There may be no safety nets for V16, but The Sonic Temple simply proves that Jerry Granelli and his younger cohorts don't need one.