High Voltage is not the first jazz recording to feature more than one lead
violin. Stephane Grappelli squared off with both Stuff Smith and L.Subramaniam,
for instance, and John Blake upped the ante by playing with both Didier Lockwood
and Michal Urbaniak on one album. But Zach Brockand Tom Wright do stake out
new territory with their plugged-in fiddles.
What initially springs to attention is what the classically trained, Chicago-based duo doesn't do. Sonically, Brock and Wright don't sacrifice timbre at the altar of amplification, and musically, they don't veer into either the overdriven jazz-rock fusion of Jean-Luc Ponty or new-age pop of late-career Jerry Goodman. It should be noted that the younger of the pair does exorcise his more experimental/electronic demons in Zach Brock and the Coffee Achievers, whose recent Secret Fort Records debut, Chemistry, finds the fiddler tripling on acoustic guitar and vocals in an exciting quartet with keyboards, bass, and drums, and plenty more arpeggiated riffs, dynamic contrasts, and noisy solos.
As Common Ground, Brock and Wright self-consciously improvise like horn players. Their bold instrumental tones, made brawnier through amps, give their melodic lines the heft and volume to not only stand out from but also bounce hard against a rhythm section-bassist Mike Arnopol (longtime Patricia Barber accompanist), drummer Tom Hipskind, and pianist Jordan Baskin-that pushes back with the power and feel of a classic Coltrane- or Davis- led quintet.
Six originals, including the 12-tone-based "The Itch," and three covers-Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance," Miles Davis' "Nardis," and nearly nine minutes of George Harrison's "Within You, Without You"-demonstrate a stylist reach paralleled in the extended techniques of the two violinists, who are mixed in separate albeit not overly separated channels. The piano has a crisp, vivid presence. The bass has a sturdy bounce but not quite the definition of the drums, which are taut and bright though slight-ly recessed in a tightly centered sound-stage that gives the music a palpable sense of impending explosion.
Common Ground, the progressive jazz group that features Zach Brock and Tom
Wright on Electric Violins, released High Voltage on June 7. The quintet is
rounded out with bassist Mike Arnopol, drummer Tom Hipskind, and pianist, Jordan
The album consists of two classics and six original compositions. There is a new and daring arrangement of Eddie Harris' "Freedom Jazz Dance." Upbeat and high energy, the song features the violin duo as well as the piano.
In contrast the other cover, George Harrison's "Within you Without You" begins somber and low key but picks up emotion and tempo ending on a very different note. The song is expressive and moody.
Highlights of the original material include the opening song, "What's In A Name" an up-tempo number that displays the talents of the two violinists. By the end of this track you don't even miss the horns that are non-existent on the CD.
"Half Tone Poem" is another winner. A softer number with some obvious traditional influences, it is animated and still very progressive and fresh.
Not for anyone who is stuck in the traditional blues influences or horns, the CD is still a treat and a fresh look at the changing face of Jazz.
Posted by Connie Phillips to Blogcritics.org