Guitarist Wayne Krantz's latest release Krantz Carlock Lefebvre (Abstract Logix) is more than just a great album, it's an exciting event - both for Krantz's career, and for the guitar community at large. This predominantly instrumental disc is Krantz's first studio album to include his long-time trio mates Keith Carlock (Drums), and Tim Lefebvre (Bass). While it's technically a Krantz solo album, Krantz Carlock Lefebvre is very much a band effort (hence the name I'm assuming). Unfortunately for me, the music on this disc is as hard to describe as Krantz himself. Though he's generally been regarded as a jazz player, there's a lot of rock in Krantz's playing as well (in addition to his solo work, he's played with artists as diverse as Steely Dan, Leni Stern, and Chris Potter). These styles, along with his impassioned dedication to improvisation, come through loud and clear on this album. Having said that, I wouldn't call Krantz Carlock Lefebvre a fusion recording - for some reason, despite the heaviness and the harmony, that label doesn't seem right to me. It's at once more rock than fusion, and more jazz than rock. In other words, it's uniquely Krantz.
Krantz is one of those rare players who can play one phrase and you immediately know it's him. His signature percussive attack, coupled with a unique approach to improvising make him instantly recognizable. He's been releasing live material in both CD and downloadable formats for years, but the last "Wayne Krantz" studio album was 1993's Long To Be Loose (a great record). If you're looking for the type of writing and lines that Krantz provided on that album, you'll need to look elsewhere. Krantz has morphed into a more adventurous player since those days, both in his improvising and his choice of guitar tones. His lines are more intervallic and almost herky-jerky now; lots of double stops and octave displaced phrasing. His clean tones are still gorgeous, but he's using a wide palette of distorted tones as well, often augmented by an octave divider or wah-wah, which in turn has brought out a stronger Hendrix-like influence in his playing. Krantz has a bolder approach to writing than he has in the past also. Subdued chordal sections are often followed by pedal-stomping "wake up!" sections, as if he's attempting to shake the listener out of their seat. You're aware of all of this already if you've been following Krantz's live material over the past several years. With Krantz Carlock Lefebvre, Krantz has finally taken his current sound and attitude, along with his trio's tight chemistry, and brought it into the studio to be documented and built upon.
The opening track "It's No Fun Not To Like Pop" is one of 4 songs on the album that feature Krantz on "vocals." I put vocals in quotes because they aren't utilized in the way you're probably used to. For this tune, the line "It's no fun not to like pop" is literally the beginning and end of the vocal content. This line is dropped in at various points during the jaunty main riff, almost as another instrument or effect. Eventually, the piece gives way to an improvisational mid-section, filled with delay effects and molten guitar tones. Before you know it, the maelstrom comes to an abrupt halt, and the tightly composed opening sections return. It's the first taste of what appears to be Krantz's vision for this album - fearless group improv mixed with provocative writing.
After the rocking instrumental "War-Torn Johnny," (which includes some impressive drum work by Carlock through the trippy improv section), the mood shifts for "Rushdie," a gorgeous track that continually gathers steam as it goes along. Krantz provides a pair of polar-opposite guitar solos on this one - a snappy acoustic turn full of lyricism and dynamics, followed abruptly by a distorted wah-wah solo. This song alone is a great example of the musical shift that Krantz has taken during the years since Long To Be Loose. The guitarist that recorded that album was not the unapologetic risk-taker that recorded this one.
Following "Rushdie" is one of my favorites, "Wine Is The Thread" - a great song that features a smidge of vocals, and a bluesy sliding-sixths melody. The wild, improvisational mid-section is a further example of the wide range of approaches Krantz takes with tone and contrast on this album.
"The Earth From Above" is a beautiful chordal and double-stop oriented piece, that is probably the most thoroughly composed song on the album. It's followed in stark contrast by the almost completely improvised "Left It On The Playground." This highly experimental soundscape features Carlock's most intense workout on the album, as well as Krantz's most liberal use of delay and ring modulator effects. Very "out there" stuff. The next track is titled "Jeff Beck" due to the fact that Krantz submitted a demo of the song to the legendary player, though Beck hasn't used it. Love the cool jazzy chords and the white-hot guitar solo on this one.
"I Was Like" is a pure rock tune, with more vocals than any other song on the album. Krantz provides two simultaneous guitar solos on this track, which seriously ratchets up the intensity. The mood shifts yet again with "Mosley," a slower tune with a deliberate groove that features some of Lefebvre's best playing on the disc. Another standout is the highly dynamic "Holy Joe" - the last vocal tune. This uptempo song is arguably the most technical composition here, and everyone is up to the task. The acoustic accents and dry vocal tones add a nice touch.
The disc closes with the deep ballad "Rugged Individual." The thing that sticks with you about this tune is how the group respects the mood of the piece when they venture into improvisational territory. Everyone leaves plenty of space for the song to breathe, while still providing input to the music. Great stuff.
One of the trademarks of Krantz's live performances is the amount of group improvising that takes place. In a wise move, Krantz decided to bring that strength to the studio for Krantz Carlock Lefebvre, and the results are fantastic. Moreover, the pre-composed portions of the music are very deep, and very guitar-oriented. This disc is loaded with great, often over-the-top guitar tones, and killer playing by Krantz and his bandmates. Krantz Carlock Lefebvre is absolutely one of my favorite albums of the year. Highly recommended.
Wayne Krantz - Krantz Carlock Lefebvre (Abstract Logix)
Wayne Krantz - Guitar
Keith Carlock - Drums
Tim Lefebvre - Bass
1. It's No Fun Not To Like Pop
2. War-Torn Johnny
4. Wine Is The Thread
5. The Earth From Above
6. Left It On The Playground
7. Jeff Beck
8. I Was Like
10. Holy Joe
11. Rugged Individual