New York Guitar Festival

Miles Okazaki, Will Bernard, Liberty Ellman, and David Gilmore. Photographs © Scott Friedlander

4th Alternative Guitar Summit at SubCulture

21.1.2014, New York, NY

The New York Guitar Festival brings a wealth of talented musicians to town.  A festival within a festival is the 4th Annual Alternative Guitar Summit curated by scholar and musician, Joel Harrison.  I was able to catch a program last Friday that lived up to its billing of “Evolving Concepts of Rhythm” at SubCulture.  It was an impressive evening of music featuring various approaches to the jazz idiom.

The night began with a Miles Okazaki composition in four relative movements that highlighted three talented percussionists.  The exposition, an erratic venture with a staccato guitar rhythm, was mainly percussive.  The second, more lyrical section resolved the first.  The third section had some fine solo guitar work as the drums softly came back into the the overall sound. Drummer,  Dan Weiss took two cymbals in his hands and with a flick of the wrist set off a fine reverberation.  The band was clearly having a good time with a few hoots and hollers thrown in for good measure. The fourth movement featured a tambourine solo and I must say, I have never seen this instrument handled so profoundly.  The final section was a chordal arrangement with all the drums in unison.  The work was filled with syncopation and subtleties with a free spirited execution.   Here is a taste of Otsaki’s compositional style:

During intermission I noticed the crowd was rather professorial.   There was mutual respect amongst the musicians mingling in the underground space throughout the evening.

Next, marked the first public performance of the west coast transplant, Will Bernard and the Pleasure Drones, the confident rhythm section of Eric Kalb on drums and Jeff Hanley working the bass.  Bernard took his Guild Starfire for a ride as this set featured many styles backed by the upbeat Kalb.  The more rock n roll sound had inflections of funk, swing, and moments reminiscent of New Orleans jams. The Pleasure Drones have a website up so you can check their new sound,  http://pleasuredrones.com/band.  I like the cut “Hang Tough.”  It’s a good one.  Should be an interesting development as this talented trio continues to play out past the thirty minute construct of this evening’s program.

Afterwards, we had the persuasive deliberations of Liberty Ellman, which was rooted in classical Jazz guitar.  This set was an interesting change of pace.  Ellman is a well traveled, seasoned bandleader and studio musician.  There were moments of elegance and elegy within dense, rhythmic variation supported by Gerald Cleaver, who worked his cymbals into a rattlesnake hiss.  Ellman closed with Skeleskope, with its tick-tock opening.

David Gilmore ended the program with harmonic complexity, while exuding a smooth perfection to his guitar work.  Brad Jones was on stand-up bass and Gene Lake killed it on drums, providing perfect dynamics in the intimate space.  One can easily imagine the energy of a set like this going late into the night with some dancing and obvious romance.  There was a fine spirit all evening.  Here is a taste of Gilmore’s electricity…

The New York Guitar Festival continues through the month of January.  Special performances include Marc Tribot, Badi Assad, Luther Dickinson, Alvin Youngblood Hart, and Toubab Krewe playing live soundtracks to silent films at Merkin Concert Hall.  It is not very often one gets to witness that.  Check out the schedule http://www.newyorkguitarfestival.org/schedule.  Enjoy.

-JSB