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A Before & After Listening Session with Gilad Hekselman

Think you’ve got this guitarist figured out? He’ll show you that you haven’t

Gilad Hekselman
Gilad Hekselman (photo: Josh Goleman)

6. Michael Gregory Jackson
“Sweet Rain Blues” (Electric Git Box, Golden Records). Jackson, guitar, composer. Recorded in 2021.

BEFORE: I have no idea who that was. It was pretty, though. I dug the combination of blues and almost meditation music; the repetitive aspect was beautiful. The use of chords and distortion at the same time makes you think about Hiram Bullock, but I don’t think it was him. Mike Stern used to do that too, but I don’t think it was Stern either.

AFTER: I don’t know Michael Gregory Jackson. That was beautiful. I’ll check him out.

7. Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson
“Faceless Smears” (Searching for the Disappeared Hour, Pyroclastic). Halvorson, guitar, composer; Courvoisier, piano. Recorded in 2021.

BEFORE: [One minute in] The initial guess is Mary Halvorson.

You are spot-on.
Is it Kris Davis on piano?

Not Kris Davis, but that’s a good guess.
The sound is beautiful; whenever I hear Kris, I notice how her sound really shines. [Atonal passage begins] Yeah, that’s not Kris for sure. What made me think it’s Kris is because … she’s able to play really free and avant-garde, but also has great command over harmony. I’m trying to think who else is like that. This doesn’t sound like Craig Taborn to me, although he’s in that category as well.

AFTER: Sylvie Courvoisier? I don’t know her. It’s a beautiful composition. Very daring. Very naked. Mary has a really clean tone. Also, it sounds to me like she’s miking the guitar itself. So you get an acoustic sound, but then all of a sudden you get those glitches, which is exciting and disorienting, because until that happens you really believe you’re listening to an acoustic instrument. It was a good journey. I was with them for it.

8. Lionel Loueke
“One Finger Snap” (HH, Edition). Loueke, guitar; Herbie Hancock, composer. Recorded in 2020.

BEFORE: Whoo! Lionel Loueke. Who else can it be? “One Finger Snap.” I’m guessing this is from his Herbie Hancock project. He’s got the best rhythm and the best groove of any guitar player that I know. It’s clear that he’s coming from drum tradition. He’s the only one who can play those instruments like that. Also the way he sings, and the way he makes percussion with his mouth, and his harmonic sense, and his sonic sense—he’s got it all. He’s magical. He’s a wizard, really. He put a ring modulation on his sound. Whenever he goes up, the thing goes down, and vice versa. I have this album. I’ve listened to some of it. You know how it is these days; you listen to a few tracks. But that was fantastic. What an inspiration. Lionel is the man.

“[Lionel Loueke]’s got the best rhythm and the best groove of any guitar player that I know. He’s magical. He’s a wizard, really.”

9. Dave Stryker
“River Man” (As We Are, Strikezone). Stryker, electric guitar; Julian Shore, piano, arranger; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums; Sara Caswell, first violin, solo; Monica Davis, second violin; Benni von Gutzeit, viola; Marika Hughes, cello; Nick Drake, composer. Recorded in 2021.

BEFORE: “River Man.” It’s Dave Stryker, right? I still haven’t checked this out, but it’s with Julian Shore on piano.

He did the string arrangements too.
Yeah, that’s one underrated motherfucker. Great piano player. We played together a little bit as sidemen on a few things here and there. Beautiful string arrangement. Who’s the violin player? I don’t know if it was viola or violin actually, but probably violin. Usually jazz and violin, it’s hit and miss. But that was such a beautiful melodic and also expressive rhythmic solo. Dave sounds fantastic. Great player. So solid. I want to check out the rest of the record. This is lush, well-produced, well-mixed, well-played—the whole bag. Loved it.

10. Ron Carter
“Cedar Tree” (Golden Striker with Donald Vega and Russell Malone: Live at Theaterstübchen, Kassel, In+Out). Carter, bass; Russell Malone, guitar, composer; Donald Vega, piano. Recorded in 2017.

BEFORE: Is it Ron Carter on bass? I’m pretty sure it’s Russell Malone. And Benny Green? Sorry—I was just thinking kind of historically. I initially thought Mulgrew Miller, but I don’t think it is. I can’t place the piano player. I dug it. I mean, it’s Ron Carter and Russell Malone—two masters. Whenever I see Russell live and he plays a solo thing, like an intro or a cadenza, it’s some of the best guitar playing. To be able to play clean like that and make it work is something I admire. Groovy. Soulful. Swinging. Got all that history in his playing. A master.

Have you done much of that guitar trio function yourself? When you did restaurant gigs early on in Israel, there must have been some of that.
There was some of that for sure. For me, it’s a challenging test to play trio or even duo with piano. In a funny way, to me at least, it feels easier to play guitar and piano when there’s drums, because it assists you in gluing those two instruments together a little bit. The piano has a lot of volume just naturally; a big grand piano projects a lot. There’s only so much a piano player can hold back volume-wise before it starts really limiting them. And when you’re playing guitar in an intimate situation, you don’t want to play too loud, but sometimes that means you’re buried by the piano. But when there’s drums, you can turn up and the piano is the one struggling to project—there’s a little more balance there.

You’ve done some projects with Aaron Parks recently.
Yeah, speaking of somebody who can master dynamics and space. When I choose a piano player for anything that I do … Obviously I need them to be good players, but besides that, the main thing I’m looking for is, are they going to respect my harmonic world and space, and can they play softly sometimes? And sometimes play loudly.

Ted Panken

Ted Panken writes extensively about jazz and creative music for various publications, and programmed jazz and creative music on WKCR-FM in New York City from 1985 through 2008. He won the 2007 ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his article “Smalls Universe,” published by DownBeat, and earned the Jazz Journalists’ Association 2016 Lifetime Achievement in Jazz Journalism award. His blog, Today Is The Question, contains over 260 of his articles and verbatim interviews.