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Jerry Granelli UFB
 News from the Street Intuition Music CD INT 2146 2

T.J. Kirk
 T.J. Kirk Warner Bros. CD 9 45885-2

 Two jazz groups, same producer, same classic rock quartet makeup, different sound

How do you like your instrumental guitar jazz? Poached with a side of fresh fruit and no butter on the toast, please? Over easy, corned-beef hash and ketchup? Take your pick. Producer Lee Townsend serves it up both ways on these releases from drummer Jerry Granelli's UFB and San Francisco's T.J. Kirk. Both bands feature two guitars, bass and drums, and share Townsend as producer, but the similarity ends there.

UFB's  News from the Street is a squeaky clean mix of contemporary instrumental jazz and blues. In addition to a handful of Granelli originals, the record includes material from Thelonious Monk to Ry Cooder to Bruce Hornsby and Jimi Hendrix. The playing is terrific (Granelli's drumming particularly) and the recording is outstanding. The drums positively sparkle off the disc. The tunes are split between some almost slow-motion semi-acoustic material, and uptempo electric pieces that live somewhere in that odd-metered world between rock, funk and jazz. Think cafe/bookstore in Boulder, Colorado, a cup of chai and the latest Utne Reader.

The band really shines on the slower, more acoustic material, rendering the tunes with exquisite restraint (a notable exception is "Akicita", which plays like a reverb-smeared outtake from a Bruce Cockburn session). Their cover of Little Village's "Big Love" is absolutely gorgeous, and Rinde Eckert's "Ellen Waltzing" is breathtaking. For the most part, their attempts at the other end of the spectrum, like Granelli's "The Swamp" (James Brown funk in 7/8), raise a lot more dust, but don't pack as much punch. Once again, though, I make an exception, this time for their dazzling whirligig version of Monk's "Brilliant Corners".

Throughout, Granelli's thoughtful, almost contemplative drumming stands out in sharp relief to the electric guitars, mainly, I think, because of the variety of tones that Brückner, Kögel and Walter employ. To my ear (and I admit a bias here), the guitars sound like synthesizers, but not particularly interesting ones at that (and when I say guitars, I include the bass, which shows up on a few tracks in super-compressed, super-snappy  Seinfeld-theme mode). Contrast this with Granelli's 1993 Evidence release  A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing, which features Kenny Garret, Julian Priester, Bill Frisell, Robben Ford and Anthony Cox, and was also produced by Lee Townsend. On this recording, Bill Frisell is able to complete the metamorphosis of the guitar while Robben Ford holds down the traditional electric guitar duties. The comparison may not be fair, but the '93 lineup never threatens the same sonic distraction I experienced on  News from the Street.

As long as my bias is showing already, let's move on to T.J. Kirk. As the band says so deceptively on the back of the CD, "T.J. Kirk plays the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown and Rahsaan Roland Kirk." In fact, they chew up open mouthfuls of Monk, James Brown and Roland Kirk and hawk them back out in big, sticky, frantically funky chunks. You wind up being able to pick out some of the big pieces, but you still need a towel to get it all off.

Don't let me give you the impression that it's nothing but a bunch of noise. The band is tight, musical and energetic with chops to burn. They can stop and start on a dime, but still swing when they want to. Funk guitar chankin' shares the stage with Charlie Hunter's organ impersonation on eight-string guitar , Will Bernard's lazy bottleneck, bubbly flatpicking, zippy spaceman bass and super crisp rhythm tracks. They can lay into thick reggae grooves (on Roland Kirk's "Volunteered Slavery") as easily as they punch into electric bop fests (Monk's "Bemsha Swing"). It's good listening, good dancing and good eating (I'd like to say great listening, but unfortunately, the recording and production don't come close to what Lee Townsend was able to do on Granelli's outing).

Is it acid jazz? I don't know, but you will find everything played over a finger-poppin' rock-solid back beat (contrast this with Granelli's fusion style stutter-stepping). It is a lot of retro everything, that kind of novo-retro that seems to be what the '90s sound and feel like. Think Berkeley Internet cafe, a shot of french roast, the latest issue of Wired. Must be why it goes down so easy. We have, after all, heard this all before, haven't we?

Especially the James Brown. It's a shame, but I think the Godfather's been beaten to death in the last few years. You'll find him buried next to George Clinton. Let's hope that Monk (covered on both of these records) isn't next.

Some trivia. Bay Area performer Rinde Eckert turns up on both of these CD's, as a vocalist on one cut with Jerry Granelli and as a liner note "thank you" on T.J. Kirk. Josef Woodard, of Musician magazine, describes him as a performer "...with roots in jazz, rock folk, gospel and opera-an unusually eclectic shooting match." He may be the missing link between the contemporary and the retro-hip. --Jason Staczek

production notes & song titles

Granelli UFB
Kai Brückner, electric and acoustic guitars; Christian Kögel, electric and acoustic guitars; Andreas Walter, bass; Jerry Granelli, drums, percussion; Rinde Eckert, vocals (one track).

Produced by Lee Townsend. Recorded by Sascha Van Oertzen, mixed by Judy Clapp, and mastered by Greg Calbi. 1995 release. (62:39)

Honey Boy | Big Love | Rainbow's Cadillac | The Swamp | Sad Hour | Akicita | Ellen Waltzing | Brilliant Corners | Blue Spanish Eyes | News from the Street | Little Wing

T.J. Kirk
Will Bernard, guitar; John Schott, guitar; Charlie Hunter, 8-string guitar, bass; Scott Amendola, drums, percussion.

Produced by Lee Townsend. Recorded by Oliver DiCicco and Christian Jones, mixed by Joe Perla, mastered by Greg Calbi. 1995 release. (52:27)

Soul Power | Teo | Bemsha Swing | Shuffle Boil/You Can Have Watergate Just Gimme Some Bucks and I'll Be Straight | Volunteered Slavery | Serenade To A Cuckoo | Freaks for the Festival | Cold Sweat/Rip, Rig & Panic | Humph | Epistrophy | I Got To Move/In Walked Bud | Jackie-ing

of related interest

Jerry Granelli
 A Song I Thought I Heard Buddy Sing, 1993, Evidence Music CD ECD 22057-2

 Broken Circle, 1996, Songline/Intuition CD INT 3501-2
Same lineup as News from the Street, less Rinde Eckert. Half of the album is devoted to music inspired by the history of Native Americans; the other half covers Prince ("Sign 'o' the Times"), Peter Gabriel ("Washing of the Water"), Charlie Mingus ("Boogie Stop Shuffle") and John Coltrane ("Lonnie's Lament"). And somehow it all works.

Charlie Hunter Trio
 Charlie Hunter Trio, 1994, Mammoth Records CD 35498 66 4
 Bing Bing Bing!, 1995, CEMA/Capitol CD 7777 31809 2

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.