Blue Notes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:35pm

The second half of this year's Jazz World Live series of concerts reflects both the eclecticism of impresario Clarence Chang's musical taste and his canny knack for balancing risky bookings with relatively safe commercial bets.

More on all these gigs closer to the time - the series takes a midsummer break in August to recommence in September - but in the second half of the year, there will be performances at various venues from Steve Gadd, Patti Austin, Laurence Juber, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Taimane Gardner.

Gardner? Nope, me neither. He is, according to Jazz World, an "incredible young uke player from Hawaii", so presumably the substantial crowds that Jake Shimabukuro reliably draws are the target audience there. Who the target audience is for guitarist Nir Felder, who Chang is presenting on Tuesday, July 7 at Backstage Live in Central, is harder to guess, but anybody who attends will be in for an interesting evening.

Felder's debut album as a leader, Golden Age, came out last year, but by the time it did he had already built up an impressive resumé of sideman credits, live and on record with Greg Osby, Jack DeJohnette, Esperanza Spalding and Teri Lyne Carrington, among others.

Felder is one of a generation of guitarists whose great inspiration was Stevie Ray Vaughan - to the extent that as a teenager he bought an inexpensive Fender Stratocaster guitar in order to have an instrument somewhat like his hero's, and has never traded it in. Unless he's on acoustic, it's the only guitar he plays.

Blues rock is the bedrock on which his style is built, but he gravitated towards jazz - as, there is reason to suppose, SRV would have done but for that tragic helicopter crash. His fusion jazz chops are as sharp as you could wish, but he eschews unnecessary flashiness, and is happy to play simple chords and let them ring in situations in which most jazz players would automatically opt for complex substitutions.

Something particularly refreshing is that he is unashamed to sound guitaristic - as all rock players do, and most jazz players try hard not to. "You hear a lot of great advice to play jazz guitar like a horn, like a piano," he says, "but I don't think it's necessary to reject what the electric guitar was meant to be. I've kept one foot where I came from."

More than that, perhaps. The influence may be filtered via SRV, but a lot of the playing on Golden Age may remind listeners of the first two Jimi Hendrix Experience albums - before Hendrix had access to the full range of studio special effects through which so much of his later music was processed.

Felder is not dependent on processing for his guitar sound, although like any electric guitarist nowadays he uses effects here and there for seasoning.

"The album is called Golden Age, and it's more of a question than a statement," he says. "We've seen a lot of change in recent years - in the music industry, in music technology, in our world, our country, and our city, New York. When I was writing this music, there was a lot of hope in the air, and excitement about change, but also a lot of insecurity and fear about the world post the 2008 economic crisis.

"It looks bad for the arts in New York City at the moment, and some people are nostalgic for the 1980s and early '90s, when times were rough and unsafe but art and culture were flourishing. Was that a 'golden age'? Is this one? Has there really ever been one? The question is always, according to whom? So, there is a lack of clarity about whether things are going great or they're really bad, and the music reflects that."

The rest of the band on the album comprises Aaron Parks on piano, Matt Penman on bass and Nate Smith on drums, but for his Hong Kong appearance Felder will be fielding a trio comprising himself on guitar, and two other noted players from the current New York scene, Orlando LeFleming on bass and Jimmy MacBride on drums.

Take Three

A trio of notable jazz albums featuring Nir Felder on guitar.

  • 9 Levels (2008, Inner Circle Music): the Greg Osby seal of approval has helped a good many young jazz players on their way, and Felder makes his mark in an Osby group that also includes Adam Birnbaum on piano, Joseph Lepore on bass and Hamir Atwal on drums.
  • Mirage (2013, Blue Land Records): Felder features prominently on a strong set, led by bass and baritone reed and woodwind specialist Brian Landrus.
  • Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue (2013, Concord Jazz): drummer percussionist Terri Lyne Carrington picked up a Grammy for this star-studded tribute to Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Felder contributes some tasteful delta blues slide work to Backward Country Boy Blues and perhaps picked up a few ideas for his use of sound clips on Golden Age.