Musics - The Guitarists


I drifted further into Jazz in the ’80s, as Rock seemed to have arrived at midlife crisis and degenerated into stadium prancing. The themes had all been stated and were now being consolidated. I remained loyal to one or two stalwarts, such as King Crimson, Steve Winwood and Gabriel. Apart from Japan, I managed to ignore any hint of New Romance. Guitar heroes were now metal heads, and, being too old to grock and roll, I quietly took my leave. It will perhaps remain a sociological puzzle that this music which grew from the twelve bar Blues became with time the furiously technical shredding of Yngwie Malmsteen. The Swede forced the new rockers to study Pagannini to stay in the race. Grab a listen to his first album, Rising Force. It reminds me of Al DiMeola’s flash playing on Elegant Gypsy in places. I wondered where Tull drummer Barriemore Barlow had gone.

Dire Straits - Brothers in Arms
One exception was Mark Knopfler, because if you bought a CD player in 1985, there were only ten CDs available, and Brothers in Arms was by far the best recorded. It has suffered from overkill, because we all know it so well, but nonetheless it shines.

Trevor Horn had dismissed Yes as a ‘white elephant’ after leaving the band as its singer. In 1983, they emerged with a new style, greatly assisted by said Trevor Horn as producer. New guitarist Trevor Rabin sparkles and cuts on 90125.

Ralph Towner - Blue SunEgberto Bismonti - Sanfona
Ralph Towner has earned his place in the pantheon of great acoustic guitarists. His Blue Sun is one among many exceptional albums. It first attracted me to ECM, and for once I followed a label, rather than a single artist. A label formed for love of music, but also successfully managed — sadly a rare combination in this furiously commercial world. ECM housed the work of several exceptional acoustic guitarists — Towner also appeared with Oregon, and I am very fond of Egberto Gismonti’s work too.

Bill Frisell - Have a Little FaithEberhard Weber - Later That EveningNorah Jones - Come Away With Me
Bill Frisell - In LineKenny Wheeler - Angel Song
I first heard the quirky Bill Frisell in the early ’80s. I am still uncertain about some of his forays as a leader, though Have a Little Faith, which explores the entire corpus of American music from Copland through Muddy Waters to Madonna, is truly exceptional. I was both overwhelmed and baffled by a performance of his Powertools trio. I love his work as a side man, especially on Eberhard Weber’s beautiful Later That Evening and Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song. He was also great as part of Marc Johnson’s Bass Desires, and plays beautifully on Norah Jones’s Come Away with Me. His own In Line contains one of the spaciest pieces of guitar ever heard, On the Beach.

Frisell has a distinctive sound, which as I’ve said is an unusual achievement for an electric guitarist. Because David Torn has found some of the same rare timbres, he is sometimes confused with Frisell. This is a dirty, rotten shame, because David Torn is one of the finest exponents of the instrument. Inspired, as he says, by Hendrix’s ‘burning electric wall of Voodoo’, Torn has successfully bridged the chasm between Progressive Rock and Jazz. All too often jazzers lose the pure power of Rock music to their delicacy of approach. The finesse of the embroidering hand and the vicious use of a meat cleaver do not necessarily sit well together. Not so David Torn who handles both blade and needle equally well and often simultaneously. He has a wide and wonderful range of sounds, and is capable of turning on a sixpence (or maybe a dime) from gut-wrenching to the featheriest of tickles.

David Torn - Cloud About MercuryMichael Shrieve - StilettoDavid Bowie - Heathen
David Torn - What Means Solid, Traveller?David Torn - Tripping Over GodMArty Fogel - Many Bobbing Heads, At Last
Mark Nauseef & Miroslav Tadic - The Snake Music
Torn’s work as a leader includes the exceptionally fine Cloud About Mercury (with King Crimson’s Bruford and Levin, and trumpeter Mark Isham). His guest work with Michael Shrieve on Stiletto is excellent, as are his performances on Marty Fogel’s Many Bobbing Heads at Last, and on Nauseef and Tadic’s The Snake Music (with Jack Bruce, great stuff, if a bit weird in places). Torn is an experimenter, and has ventured to the horizons of sound on his What Means Solid Traveller? Like Robert Fripp he is a master of the soundscape — hear Tripping Over God. More recently he has worked with David Bowie — hear him on the excellent Heathen. I love him so much that I have written him his very own article. (Read more on david torn.)

John Abercrombie - Getting There
I came relatively late to the work of John Abercrombie. He has been setting Jazz standards (sorry, couldn’t help myself there) for decades. A beautiful, lyrical player who is also capable of emitting jarring anxiety. I love his work with Peter Erskine and Mark Johnson, for instance, on Getting There. I’m still listening to it with some regularity after about 15 years. He also made fine, innovative albums with Downbeat’s all-time favourite drummer, Jack de Johnette.

dvd: Joni Mitchell - Shadows and Light DVDJoni Mitchell - Shadows and LightPat Metheny - Brigth Size Life
Pat Metheny - 80/81Gary Burton - Reunion
Pat Metheny stands out as an original — though he pays homage to Wes Montgomery, too. If anyone represents the gentleness of Hippiedom, it is none of the psychedelic guitarists, but this man. And it isn’t just the superlong hair. Metheny is a highly accomplished guitarist, and has a great range of work behind him; ranging from his collaborations with the great innovator of fretless bass, Jaco Pastorius — on Bright Size Life, and with Joni Mitchell on Shadows and Light — to the beautiful Electric Counterpoint, with minimalist composer Stever Reich. Metheny plays straight ahead Jazz with Dewey Redman on the excellent 80/81. Metheny also played with the equally mellow Gary Burton, and they reprised their association on Reunion.

Pat Metheny - Still Life (Talking)Pat Metheny Group - OfframpPat Metheny - Watercolors
Metheny’s work as leader — almost always in co-operation with wonderful keyboardist Lyle Mays — includes such great albums as Offramp and Still Life Talking. Watercolour, with maestro of double bass Eberhard Weber is the gentlest of music. Carlos Santana introduced Metheny at the Live Aid concert, and they share a passion for Latin music.

Terje Rypdal & David Darling - Eos
Terje Rypdal is a Norwegian classical pianist and composer who was inspired by Hendrix to teach himself guitar. His almost ambient wide open spaces and shattering chords fit surprisingly well into a Jazz context. I like Eos, which he made with cellist David Darling. I also listen to his fine orchestral album Undisonus, especially the piece for choir and chamber orchestra Ineo.

John Scofield - Slo ScoGary Burton - Times Like These
John Scofield passed through the Miles Davis band after establishing an illustrious solo career. Time with either Miles Davis or Frank Zappa is the best of musical credentials. Scofield is a great exemplar of Blues guitar, welded to cutting Rock and perfect Jazz technique (described in AMG with the words ‘post bop fusion soul jazz’). Slow Sco collects some of his ballads. Like Metheny he cut great albums with vibist Gary Burton, including Times Like These, an immaculte melding of great talents. He joins Frisell on the credits for Mark Johnson’s superb Bass Desires.

Andy Summers was the first guitar player to jam with Hendrix when he arrived in England. He had to wait over a decade to achieve fame, but it was immense when it arrived. Since the Police, he has been able to do exactly what he wants, and he has. He collaborated with Michael Shrieve on the aforementioned Stiletto. He has also worked with the fine Mr Fripp. There is an inexpensive sampler of three of his solo albums released as A Windham Hill Retrospective. The music is extremely more exciting that the title. Jazz with a backbeat. I have yet to hear his more recent Earth + Sky (and there is no way that I’m going to try and put Real Player on my computer again), but with Abe Laboriel and Vinnie Colaiuta in the back line it should be as good as the four stars AMG give it.