Out of Time: The Skip Heller Trio Live in Philly
“I own about three hundred albums that sound pretty much like this,” Skip Heller writes in the notes for Out of Time. It’s not the best way to plug a live guitar-organ-drums album, a genre whose quantities are a dime a dozen. But the guitarist and the material he chose for a return to his old Philadelphia stomping ground create the excitement of that instrumentation while virtually avoiding the chitlin-house shtick.
The selections include “Canadian Sunset,” “Li’l Darlin’,” “All the Way,” Johnny Mathis’ “It’s Not for Me to Say” and Burt Bacharach’s “Wives and Lovers,” which comes with a spoken disclaimer about its awful lyrics. Even with relatively laidback material, Heller’s bright tone and melodic sense keep the proceedings alive and flowing. Drummer John F. Kennedy, an old Philly friend, and organist Lucas Brown, who played with him only once prior, interact with Heller as if they’ve played together for years.
Bear Flag was made by Heller’s regular Los Angeles trio, including drummer Ryan Doyle and organist Joe Bagg, showing what happens when a guitarist’s track record includes everyone from roots rocker Dave Alvin and Big Jay McNeely as well as soundtracks to The Flintstones cartoons. He sounds less like a “jazz guitarist” and more like a guitarist with a vast command of numerous musical styles. “Weatherbirds of Prey,” originally titled “Something for Rahsaan,” toasts the iconoclastic reedman with a playful melody that starts out sounding like a ska riff that threatens to turn into “Out of Nowhere” before it turns another corner. In “Plaid Hat, Red Wagon,” inspired by the cover photo of Monk’s Music, Heller manages to quote both “Music to Watch Girls By” and “Corner Pocket.” “Highway 99” pays homage to California guitar, combining some solid solos with a tremolo melody that evokes the Ventures or Link Wray.