By Michael Henningsen
Robert Randolph and the Family Band Unclassified (Warner Bros)
Guitarist Robert Randolph kicks ass in a Jeff Healy kind of way. His main axe is the pedal steel, from which he's able to coax chordal passages that sound as if they're coming from a Telecaster and solos that, like Healy's ghostly slide work, are more articulate than those you've come to expect from guys with only six strings to deal with. Randolph doesn't create all his magic on the pedal steel, but what he's able to do on the instrument is otherworldly. This, his second record, is cohesive, energetic and jaw-droppingly superlative in terms of songwriting and performance.
Mylab Mylab (Terminus)
Mylab is the brainchild of avant garde jazz pianist/composer Wayne Horvitz and drummer/sampler Tucker Martine, but sounds like an unholy alliance between Morphine, Tuatara, and Medeski, Martin and Wood. With guests including guitarist Bill Frisell and saxophonist Skerik, the album is a collage of groovalicious funk, outward-bound jazz, field recordings, loops and airy melodies. But the result isn't nearly as frightening as it sounds. The tunes are moderately paced and not annoyingly long or spacious. By the same token, while there's a lot going on here, none of it is difficult to digest. Looking for something fresh? You found it.
Ken Hatfield Trio The Surrealist Table (Arthur Circle Music)
Picking up where his mentor, Charlie Byrd, left off, fingerstyle guitarist Ken Hatfield appears on his fifth record with a jazz trio that includes bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jeff Hirschfield. One of few jazz guitarists to employ the classical guitar exclusively, Hatfield approaches his compositions with enormous fluidity and unparalleled rhythmic sense, using a subtle polyphonic technique that gives his playing a pianistic feel. The Surrealist Table presents a full gamut of emotion and musical colors, from gentle ballads to smoky blues to interactive swing. Fans of Byrd, Wes Montgomery and even Al DiMeola will be mystified.
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