07/22/14 By Evan Haga
Evan Haga Introduces the August 2014 Issue
I really enjoyed the month of May, and not only because New York finally stopped resembling some sort of post-apocalyptic ice planet, although the weather continues to make little sense. No, I also got to dig deep into jazz guitar and direct this six-string-focused issue you hold in your hands. An obsession with the guitar was my entrée into music and eventually jazz and the avant-garde, and I continue to follow the instrument’s various traditions with the nostalgic enthusiasm of a fanboy.
So hopefully you’ll forgive me when I admit that, upon learning of the first “Eric Dolphy: Freedom of Sound” festival in Montclair, N.J., I most anticipated the triumvirate of guitarist Vernon Reid, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer Pheeroan akLaff—even more than the prospect of hearing unearthed Dolphy music. After all, this group would involve the remaining two-thirds of a powerhouse trio led by the late Ronald Shannon Jackson, the inimitable veteran of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time who managed to expand and refine that group’s sonic free-funk. And who better to fill Jackson’s place than akLaff, who harbors much of the strength and earth associated with his playing? It was a Knitting Factory dream scenario worth a bus ride to Jersey.
Reid and Gibbs and akLaff did not disappoint. They provided the requisite searching, Hendrix-tinted ambience on “Eastern Voices/Western Dreams,” a Shannon Jackson original that the guitarist and bassist recorded in 1980 as part of the composer’s Decoding Society. And on Sonny Sharrock’s “Dick Dogs,” which imagined an R&B 45 as interpreted by a heavy metal band, Reid got to burn to his heart’s delight—and mine.
But something else happened on this last day in May at Montclair State University: I became enamored of Eric Dolphy, a musician I’ve always liked but one whose cult-like following has perplexed me. Now I feel the stoke of discovery again, like I did with the guitar so many years ago.
Originally published in August 2014