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Hillmen: The Whiskey Mountain Sessions

Glenn Astarita By

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The group name and album title might imply semblances of a bluegrass jam-session, but Hillmen's The Whiskey Mountain Sessions is, in fact, an improvised jazz-rock set tinted with psychedelics, featuring keyboardist Gayle Ellett and guitarist Mike Murray, of the fabled Southern California progressive rock band Djam Karet. It's an electro-organic schematic sans instrumental overlays or audio compression that effectively captures the live studio performance aesthetic.

In a loose sense, the music plots along like a pulsating dreamscape, formed by a hip, jam-band like constitution. Drummer Peter Hillman and bassists Ralph Rivers and Steve Re = 20571 keep this train-a-rolling with firm pulses and an air for the dynamic, while Murray's hybrid jazz-rock, hard-rock and psycho guitar licks ride atop a deterministic rhythmic foundation. The band's improvisational output exudes an after-hours aura, as the musicians let their hair down and surge forward without boundaries or a regimented ideology.

With fire and gusto, the quartet's elongated theme-building exercises fit snugly with Murray's distortion techniques and blitzing single-note parts. On "Summer Days," the group chugs along with a fluid bottom pushing the tempo, abetted by Ellett's lower register phrasings on electric piano and Murray's spaced-out guitar lines. They pick up steam, but also move about with an unhurried line of attack as they abide by a congenial flow, and let the chips fall where they may, attaining a balanced approach that is sometimes uncommon within jam-based methodologies.

It's a no frills affair and less technical in scope than the archetypal Djam Karet album, but the artists radiate an upbeat vibe along the way, sparked by enthusiasm and an affable posture that helps facilitate the gratifying results.

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