Sacramento, CA-based experimental guitarist Ross Hammond has been making records since 1999, and his latest one Adored features his Quartet of himself, Vinny Golia on saxophones, Alex Cline on drums and Steuart Liebig on electric bass. Wayne Peet engineered and mastered the record, and added a little piano on one cut.
Golia, Cline and Peet have all appeared on Nels Cline’s Dirty Baby (2010), and so, it might be fair to think that musicians who mingle with Nels when he’s doing one of his more twisted projects would appear on Hammond’s record because he wants to go all experimental, too. Sure, the record is an outside jazz record, but one that bears little resemblance to Nels. No, Hammond does it his own unique way.
That distinctive way starts with his guitar. Hammond’s tone is sparkly and suggests a vintage rock ‘n’ roll style that conjures Duane Eddy, Link Wray and Dick Dale as much as it might Sonny Sharrock, but it’s just that kind of influence which gives him such an expressive, purposeful delivery. Placed in a free improv jazz setting, it fits in so easily into this environment, even naturally.
The songs themselves are apparently lightly composed for the most part, generally tonal but kept lean to encourage wide-open improvisation. On “Adored” everyone is improvising at once, and Golia and Hammond are often soloing simultaneously throughout the record. A nice, early-sixties type riff is played over an odd time signature for “Sesquipedalian” (video of live performance below) as Golia blows with constant fury.
Sometimes, the songs contain a little more structure, such as the bass ostinato that forms the foundation for “She’s My Little Girl” and another interesting repeating figure that drives “Maribel’s Code.” “Hands Up” starts out as a sort of punk song and front here disintegrates into near-total anarchy. The mostly pastoral ending track “Water Always Finds Its Way, Like The Soul” has a folk-ish melody that like water, meanders around but really does find its way.
Reconciling the world of jazz with rock and free improv is never an easy task but Hammond and his crew get it done by not forcing things and letting the creativity flow. Sacramento’s secret weapon deserves to be less of a secret and better known to avant-fusion audiences outside of that town.