Ross Hammond & Sameer Gupta – Upward – Prescott

by | May 15, 2016 | Jazz CD Reviews

Improvised music which pushes boundaries.

Ross Hammond & Sameer Gupta – Upward [TrackList follows] Prescott, 63:28 [3/15/16] ****:

(Ross Hammond – 12-string guitar; Sameer Gupta – tabla)

Jazz or improvisational duo albums offer something distinct. The reliance on just two instruments means both musicians have to have complete communication. Each artist is always doing something and also in conversation with the other person. Case in point: the hour-long CD, Upward, from guitarist Ross Hammond (who has worked with Oliver Lake, percussionist Alex Cline and others) and tabla player Sameer Gupta (he’s the drummer in the Marc Cary Focus Trio and has backed Grachan Moncur III, Sonny Simmons and more). The number of such guitar/tabla collaborations is a small list, so these two longtime friends have created a record which should appeal to improvisation fans, outsider jazz listeners, Indian music buyers, and those who appreciate guitarists such as John Fahey, Robbie Basho (who also occasionally mixed guitar with Indian percussion) and Sandy Bull.

Hammond is a multifaceted player who links blues, folk, Asian-Indian and other influences into his guitar artistry. While he’s used electric guitar on some of his previous outings, here Hammond concentrates on acoustic guitar. Sometimes—such as during the nearly 12-minute tribute “For Chris Ferreira ”he shapes a sweeping, raga-like perspicacity which heightens the rhythmic course.” Other times Hammond utilizes single-note picking—the nearly eight-minute ‘Cycle of One’ is an example—where he taps a blues style to evoke an Americana mannerism. Free-flowing improvisation is crucial to this music. One particular occurrence is the six-minute, pun-induced ‘Farm to Tabla,’ which is dedicated to bassist Ken Filiano, an important member of both the west coast and east coast improv music communities. Here, Hammond employs his 12-string guitar to initiate what sometimes sounds like overdubbing as he actively runs across the fretboard to craft a complex cross-section of chords, notes and guitar patterns. Meanwhile, Gupta provides a rhythmical sequence on his hand percussion, balancing traditional talas (or rhythmic cycles) from Indian classical music with less-defined percussion elements.

Reverence for specific people emerges in some parts of this project; “For Chris Ferreira” was written as an homage to the Bay Area composer who is friends with both Sameer and Hammond; and one of the lengthier and most far-reaching pieces is the 11:30 “Kenyatta, the Professor and the Redeemer,” probably penned as a honorific to Jomo Kenyatta, the intellectual who became the first president of Kenya. If there is one track which captures all of the myriad aspects of Hammond and Gupta’s musical vision, this is the one. There are quiet stretches, such as the introduction, where slide guitar and a Fahey-esque characteristic are evident. But as the music progresses, the percussion and guitar become heavier and more aggressive, until Hammond is slashing at his strings; while Gupta slams his fingers on the tablas in a forceful, high-energy intensity. Upward has the impression of being born “of the moment,” and indeed it no doubt was. Certainly, when this duo performs live, anything can happen and often does. When they finished their brief west coast tour at the intimate Los Angeles venue, the Center for the Arts Eagle Rock, there was no obvious replication of Upward’s compositions. It was improvisation at its most uninhibited, and yet it had the same ambition, compassion and interplay on Upward. If you’re in the mood for music which is meant for deep listening and entrenched engagement, which adeptly blends Indian and other types of music, then Ross Hammond and Sameer Gupta have something for you. [At the time of this review Amazon only has it on MP3 files…Ed.]

TrackList: Upward; For Chris Ferreria; Cycle of One; When Kesslers Rage; Farm to Tabla (for Ken Filiano); Kenyatta, the Professor and the Redeemer; Gravity House; Being and Becoming.

—Doug Simpson

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