After nine years of delving knee deep into the blues with his rockin’ Blue Line band, guitarist Robben Ford has taken a new direction on his seventh solo outing, TigerWalk (Blue Thumb/GRP). A decidedly funkier affair featuring drummer Steve Jordan and bassist Charley Drayton (the loose-tight rhythm section from the X-Pensive Winos, Keith Richards’ pet project outside of the Rolling Stones) in the syncopated company of P-Funk keyboard wiz Bernie Worrell, this all-instrumental project is more on the R&B tip and highlights some of Ford’s most spectacular playing on record.
“I wanted to do a straight-out guitar record,” he says. “That’s my instrument. It is a bigger part of me than singing is and it just comes so natural to me. So we put together an album that has a sense of simplicity, strong grooves and lots of guitar.”
Great guitar, to be exact. Whether it’s the reverb-soaked title track, the scorching Hendrix-influenced wah-wah showcase on “Just Like It Is,” the very lyrical ballad “Freedom” or the raw, Richards-influenced rocker “Comin’ Up,” Ford unleashes with characteristic abandon and linear invention. He hasn’t played this much guitar since his touring days in the mid-’80s with Miles Davis.
The flowing modal extra-polation, “Oasis,” was in fact inspired by Miles.
“I wanted to see how broad of a mood we could create with a song that just had a couple of real simple minor chords, like ‘So What.’ But instead of moving it up a half step, I moved it up a minor third and then added a third chord just because it seemed to need it. In writing it I thought, ‘How simple can I go here and not be boring?’ The challenge was to keep it simple and yet still have a piece of music that actually says something.”
Elsewhere, Ford’s guitar speaks volumes on “Red Lady w/Cello,” a tribute to Me’Shell Ndegeocello, and on “The Champ,” a variation on a Coltrane theme. While he won’t be touring with the same band that recorded Tiger Walk (...“far too expensive”), Ford has recruited a crack outfit that includes former Chick Corea Elektric Band drummer Gary Novak, bassist Chris Chaney from the Alanis Morissette band and former Miles Davis keyboardist Deron Johnson. “I was really surprised by Novak,” says Ford. “I thought he was more of a jazz player but he’s way more than that. He can really play this music.”