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Tronzo/Granelli/Epstein: Crunch

As much as this freewheeling, deep-feeling trio is a collective affair-democracy in action-the sound of Dave Tronzo tends to seize the ear, as it often does in an ensemble with the slide guitar voodoo man. Or is it possible that this is only true when the listener is A) a slide guitar aficionado, B) a slide guitarist who understands the peculiar challenges of the medium and respects one who has gotten around the challenges and the stubborn cliches, or C) both of the above?

Whatever the case, there is much thoughtful improvised splendor, colorful circumspection, and textural intrigue here, between Tronzo, bassist J.A. Granelli, and saxophonist Peter Epstein. No drums or chords, per se, are necessary. It’s funky, it’s free, it’s a meld of brains and BBQ. They explore made-up landscapes, with few structural meeting places along the way, alternating between group improv bits called “Thing #2,” etc. (a nod to Cat in the Hat?) and actual tunes, such as Epstein’s moody cloudscape, “Cumulous,” Tronzo’s self-descriptive “Dance of the Hillbilly Robots” and Granelli’s sweet-sad “Foo.” In the slide guitar department, Tronzo expertly negotiates vocal-like phrases across strings-one could say, following his own series of sliding scales. He defies the tyranny of the fretboard, folds in extraneous noises, and makes no bones about the technical rigors of his chosen instrument.

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