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All No Talk 2010 CD special $12.
Jeff Norem - Stick and Alto Stick
review by Greg Howard
SAMPLE MP3s ©Jeff Norem
"Blue Is Your Color" (excerpt)
There's a line somewhere between the solo musician and the duo where Stick players often find themselves — between laying down a groove with their left hand for the right to take a solo, and building complex interwoven two-handed chords or two-handed bass parts.
In his new CD, All No Talk, Jeff Norem obliterates the line, using any and all sub-techniques to create energetic and intimate instrumental solos and duets between his two hands, and even duets between layered Chapman Stick and Alto Stick, reminiscent of "piano four hands".
Among Stick soloists Jeff may be the most guitar-like to come along yet, both in sound and style. He has a remarkable ability to integrate his two hands to create an open, rolling "finger-picked" sound just by tapping.
His ACTV-2-equipped 10-string reminds me of Ralph Towner's acoustic 12-string guitar, bathed in spacious reverb. The sound resembles carefully plucked strings, which Jeff holds onto, coaxing out every last vibration before moving on. When doubling his long-scale Stick and Alto together, offsetting them by octaves, it sounds like a gigantic 12-string guitar (but with a deeper bass range). On solo Alto tunes, his tone with the PASV-4 is warm and ringing, like John Abercrombie's hollow-body electric.
"Projections", the opening track is something of an opus, nearly 10 minutes long, and built largely around a pulsating midrange loop. Themes and tones appear, disappear and re-emerge, and there's a refreshing conversational looseness about it that seems to expand the possibilities of loop-based music.
On the Flamenco-inspired "New Quixote" Jeff's high-energy interlocking hands create a percussive finger-picked guitar effect, sonically recalling Micheal Hedges's no-holds-barred approach to using all possible techniques on his acoustic guitar. "Just a Minute" offers another take on the Alto, an intense, almost frenetic, bluesy two-handed dialog. His right-hand solos are often soulful and expressive, but at other times are fast and furious.
"Blue is Your Color" is a true solo on 10-strings, that starts out with some languid octave lines and jazz chords, but then Jeff ratchets up the energy with some blindingly-fast improvised passages. Even though it's clearly a two-part piece, Jeff finds the relationship and makes the musical connections.
On the "The Oval" Jeff explores a driving two-handed melody, stretching it out in all directions with subtle variations on thematic patterns.
Jeff's use of subtly different ambient effects for song adds a sonic flow to the album, which was nicely produced and engineered by John Durr. The natural energy and flow of the performances is captured — particularly refreshing in an age of perfectly sliced, diced and and re-spliced digital music.
Track Listing (all songs by Jeff Norem)
2. Blue Is Your Color
3. Enter Here
4. The Oval
5. A Few Words
7. New Quixote
8. Just a Minute