Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ross Hammond Humanity Suite

 Ross Hammond's Humanity Suite
w/ Vinny Golia, Catherine Sikora, Dax Compise, Clifford Childers and Kerry Kashiwagi

Ross Hammond typically invests a lot into his recording projects, as we witnessed with instinctual rock-jazz excursions like 2012′s Adored and 2013′s Cathedrals. But having the sharp focus of marrying his music to an art exhibit with a social theme? Stand back.
Asked to perform at a local art show exhibiting the works of visual artist Kara Walker, the Sacramento composer, guitarist and bandleader embraced the challenge of devising a soundtrack of sort to the exhibit, perform it live with a six-piece band and capture the performance for his next record.

 Photo2014 © Peter Gannushkin 

Humanity Suite (available May 6, Prescott Recordings) is the document of Hammond’s sound exhibit, a forty-seven minute opus that takes ideas already put forward on those prior albums and adapts them to a larger, longer-form platform. Those ideas involve writing for certain performers in mind, such as drummer Dax Compise and acoustic bassist Kerry Kashiwagi, and leaving enough elasticity to allow and encourage improvisation. Especially where that involves the horn players Catherine Sikora (tenor sax), Clifford Childers (trombone, euphonium, bass trumpet, harmonica) and Hammond’s mentor, Vinny Golia (soprano sax, flute, bass clarinet, singing bowls, shakuhachi, m’buot).
Putting all the movements together in a single performance enabled Hammond to transit from one sketch to another naturally and they often overlap, drawing attention to how the sections are related to each other and highlighting the coherency throughout all the changes.


Hammond’s lonely voice on guitar sets the initial mood, helped along by Compise’s sympathetic brush work as the horns arise from the mist to add their counterparts. The second phase begins with Kashiwagi’s understated bass figure, but things soon get a little agitated with horns improvising in opposition to Hammond. Hammond increasingly bares his teeth, getting into an early period John McLaughlin state of mind. At about the twelve minute mark everyone stops except for the three horns who then briefly battle then forge a truce, leading to a harmonious period of peace. Tension builds up with the introduction of a new motif, keyed by a winning bass clarinet solo from Golia while Hammond adds intriguing chords.

A groove develops around twenty-seven minutes in, with an ostinato played on bass at the center of it. It’s during that time when Hammond delivers his best guitar moment of the performance; there’s a human element in the way he constructs his impassioned lines, they never sound hackneyed at all. Following that passage, Sikora, Childers (on trombone) and Golia (on soprano sax) conjure up a nice commotion together for a while. The groove quietly exits, leaving behind a corridor of atonality and tentativeness, unexpectedly led by Childers’ harmonica. A new, hopeful riff from Hammond’s rhythm guitar emerges from the dirge, and Golia and Sikora extrapolate their thoughts from that. Hammond enters the fray switching to a lead role, leading to a crescendo, and then it’s just him alone up front briefly. Strains of harmonica can be heard in distance during the final breaths of the whole suite, bringing the whole thing to a conclusion as benign as the beginning.
It’s a long, kaleidoscopic ride, with enough interesting developments along the way to make that three quarters of an hour go by quickly. As to how closely related Humanity Suite is to Walker’s art, we who haven’t attended the exhibit and performance will have to take Ross Hammond’s word on that. The music, however, is a fine work of art on its own.

 Photo2014 © Peter Gannushkin

Ross Hammond's Humanity Suite (Prescott; USA) Featuring Ross Hammond on guitar, Catherine Sikora on tenor sax, Vinny Golia on soprano sax, flute, bass clarinet & shakuhachi, Clifford Childers on trombone, euphonium, bass trumpet & harmonica, Kerry Kashiwagi on acoustic bass and Dax Compise on drums & percussion. Recorded live at the Crocker Art Museum, music inspired by the art work of Kara Walker.
Sacramento-based guitarist Ross Hammond comes to New York and usually plays here at DMG a couple of times per year and always leaves us with his good vibes and strong playing. He plays with different musicians each time he plays here: Vinny Golia, Oliver Lake and Catherine Sikora are some of his recent collaborators. Ross played here last Sunday (4/6/2014) in a fine duo with Ken Filiano and left us with his new LP-only release...

 Photo Jay Spooner

You all no doubt know L.A. reeds wizard, label-head & professor Vinny Golia who has worked with Mr. Hammond on a previous recording. I've been checking out Downtowner Catherine Sikora for the past half dozen years and recognize that she is one of the better under-recognized saxists emerging from our local scene. The other three members of this sextet (Childers, Kashiwagi & Compise) I am not yet familiar with but would assume that they are based in the same (central California) area as Mr. Hammond. The one thing that I dig most about Mr. Hammond is the organic approach to improvising, flowing, centered, but without trying to hard to steer into a specific genre or recognizable stream. This sextet sounds as if they are all on the same page, taking their time to build or work through a common ground.


"The Humanity Suite" seems like an apt name and it takes up this entire LP. Ms. Sikora takes the first solo and she is most impressive, focused and filled with power and passion and jeez what a great tone she has! Together with Golia on soprano and Childers on trombone, the three horns spin several lines around one another in righteous waves. Mr. Golia takes the next solo on soprano which is laid back yet still sounds strong. In the next section Mr. Childers also takes a fine trombone solo with crafty interplay from Hammond's guitar and Golia's flute. Mr. Golia is a multi-reeds virtuoso who plays more different reed and ethnic instruments than practically anyone else. He switches to bass clarinet in the next section, bringing a different ingredient to the overall sound, his interaction with Hammond's guitar is especially spirited.

with Amy Reed

For me, the highlight of this suite is the superb solo from Mr. Hammond on Side B. Hammond, Sikora, Golia (on soprano) & Childers all take off together soaring with a fine rhythm team action pushing them higher and them gliding down into a calm landing. The final section works its way through a spacious, eerie part with harmonica, bowed bass and understated hand percussion (nice solo). This part is a sounds like a perfect conclusion for the entire organic free-flowing suite. Excellent work from Ross Hammond and his well-selected sextet.

by Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG


"Arising star on the West Coast jazz and improvised music scene, the Sacramento-based Hammond released one of the most invigorating jazz guitar albums on 2013 in Cathedrals…"
-Chris Barton, LA Times (1/2014)

"Sacramento, California based guitarist Ross Hammond plays up a storm in the excellent company of drummer Alex Cline, bassist Steuart Liebig and saxophonist/flautist Vinny Golia on this adventurous and at times heady disc..."
-Barry Cleveland, Guitar Player Magazine (9/2013)

“Ross Hammond is no doubt the best unknown electric guitarist I've heard in many years and this disc is proof of his ambitious abilities...”
-Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery Newsletter (2/2012) NYC

 "Ross Hammond is the image of the intense artist - but when he puts a pick to his guitar strings, the image rises to full-fledged life. Hammond’s latest disc sheds some light on the inspiration and complexity behind his pensive approach...." 
-New York City Jazz Record

"The Ross Hammond Quartet makes music that’s neither fully jazz nor fully rock, but in some nether land in between the two. That, along with Hammond’s rough-toned guitar makes it a little reminiscent of pre-Miles John Scofield, and whatever edginess Sco had back then, Ross Hammond has that now…"  
 -S. Victor Aaron, Something Else Reviews 

"Ross Hammond-The best kept secret in Sacramento...or perhaps the entire West Coast!"
-Brent Black, 

" a guitar-based "Ascension."
-Glenn Hall, Exclaim! (review of Adored, 4/2012)

"Ross Hammond can express himself with a guitar better than most people can with the English language."
-Sacramento News and Review (2010)