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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ross Hammond - Cathedrals (Prescott Recordings, 2013) ****½

By Paul Acquaro

Following up on last year's Adored, guitarist Ross Hammond's Cathedrals is another fine set of jazz rock folk free songs delivered by a top notch quartet: woodwind player Vinny Golia, bassist Stuart Liebig, percussionist Alex Cline, and Hammond himself spinning rootsy lines on electric guitar. This new collection not only picks up where the group last left off but takes their playing to an entirely new level.

In between the two quartet releases, Hammond put out a recording with his Revival Trio that explored African inspired rhythms and song structures. An experimental release, and to go out on a limb, a development that informs the opening tune, 'A Song for Wizards.' The track begins with some minimal guitar swells before a dense and earthy rhythmic pattern, played over a circuitous bass line, forms a foundation for Golia's folksy melody. The melody and Hammond's crunchy guitar lines swirl together in a melodic dance over the hypnotic and hard-hitting rhythm section.

The follow up 'Hopped Up on Adrenaline' is a scorcher. It kicks off with a dense interplay between Cline and Liebig reminiscent of Dark Magus era Miles Davis. Golia provides a tasteful contrast on the flute, digging in while Hammond adds some tonal cluster color. When Hammond lets go on the guitar it's with a nasty (good nasty) thicket of notes and chord fragments. Other tracks like 'Telescoping' and 'This Goes With Your Leather' sport fragmented melodies before descending into lovely heaps of improvisation, and the track 'She Gets Her Wine From a Box' has something that makes me think of The Trio with John Surman.

Hammond is generous with space, often taking a supporting role and giving his colleagues plenty of room to work. Golia's playing is excellent and he is a great partner for the guitarist to play off. Liebig's bass is solid and straightforward and adds a great counter motion to the songs, and what can be said of Cline's playing other than his feel is perfectly situated in the jazz-rock space that Hammond is creating. Cathedrals is accessible and energetic, spacious and layered, and a high point in a growing discography.

Check out Cathedrals on Hammond's Bandcamp site.