Ross Hammond Quartet – Cathedrals (2013)

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Ross Hammond made a record last year that I dug the hell out of. Adored is raw rock-jazz that I found very instinctual because everyone in his band are seasoned jazz cats who cross over to rock for fun. The fun spilled over to the listening side of the equation, and thusly, it was on my Top Albums list for 2012.

Now this guitarist, composer, bandleader and hat wearer out of Sacramento is back at it again with his quartet. Cathedrals is a extension of Adored, using many of the same ideas, like keeping the compositions loose to encourage loose playing from his band, whether it be from rock vamps or free jazz, or something in-between. But also as before, the Ross Hammond Quartet makes music that’s neither fully jazz nor fully rock, but in some nether land in between the two. That, along with Hammond’s rough-toned guitar makes it a little reminiscent of pre-Miles John Scofield, and whatever edginess Sco had back then, Ross Hammond has that now.

So yes, there are some things that set Cathedrals apart from Adored, but the distinctions are very fine. One thing is that the new record rocks a little harder, which plays to drummer Alex Cline’s strengths. He deploys a rock backbeat on several of Hammond’s numbers, like the snarling “A Song For Wizards,” a relentless “This Goes With Your Leather” and “Tricycle,” which is a rewrite of the prior album’s excellent tune “Seasquipedalian.” And each of these rhythms is unique, sometimes uncommon; Cline’s got more backbeats in his arsenal than Mike Clark has funk beats.

Also returning for Cathedrals are electric bassist Stewart Liebig, who does yeoman’s work bridging Cline’s rhythms to the freewheeling front line, and Vinny Golia, a giant figure in the current West Coast jazz scene, who hauls out his soprano sax, tenor sax and flute for these sessions.

Hammond’s songs were obviously built with the talent at hand in mind and give them all plenty of room to create on the spot. For tunes like “A Song For Wizards, “Hopped Up on Adrenaline” and “Tricycle,” he conjures up compelling repeating figures, enabling Golia and himself to improvise of the circular patterns, often at the same time. “She Gets Her Wine From A Box” and “Cathedrals” veer out toward free jazz, and group improv tend to takes over in these settings.

“Telescoping” also has a less rigid song construction but it’s also very melodic, too. Hammond puts in some of his best soloing here, with shades of Hendrix and McLaughlin showing up but not controlling his style. Meanwhile, Golia on soprano sax is soloing right along him in a similarly inspired way. “Run, Run Ibex!” is a slow, heavy rock shuffle, a psychedelic jam where Hammond and Golia on tenor sax play contrapuntal lines. The whole things ends with a gentle, folky two-minute number “Good Lola” featuring only Hammond on acoustic guitar and Cline making a light drone from a singing bowl.

You could call Cathedrals a fusion jazz record, but — once again — Ross Hammond’s quartet deconstructs the whole idea of fusion and reconstructs it as something that’s truer to the spirit of both music forms that it’s drawn from. Cathedrals makes it 2-0 in the Ross Hammond Quartet’s win/loss column.

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Cathedrals will be released June 4 by Prescott Recordings. Visit Ross Hammond’s website for more info.

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