It wasn’t so much a tour gig as a homecoming. In fact, a sizable portion of the audience on hand last night for Ross Hammond’s Outside the Spotlight solo guitar concert at Mecca consisted of friends and family, including his grandparents, father and 4 year old daughter.
But as informal and intimate as the 70 minute set was, what Hammond performed was a stylistically far reaching program that was expansive even by jazz terms. But given the music was performed without amplification on 6 and 12 string guitars with a mix of finger and flatpicking styles, the evening’s dominate sounds were rooted in compositional folk-blues traditions more than jazz
In its finest moments, the performance embraced all of that. The Creator Has a Master Plan transformed the meditative groove saxophonist Pharoah Sanders wrapped the tune’s original version in with slide driven accents on 12 string that made the resulting music fall in line with the wiry rural folk adventures of John Fahey.
From another plain altogether came the familiar hymn I’ll Fly Away, a staple of bluegrass and pre-bluegrass country repertoires that Hammond established with a rugged, punctuated rhythm before the tune’s melody line rang out with a decidedly Eastern air.
Then on the original Womuts!, elements seemingly borrowed from British folk tradition – especially, the pre-Pentangle records of John Renbourn and Bert Jansch – bookended slower, American-rooted passages on 12 string.
All three tunes, which will be featured on Hammond’s forthcoming solo guitar album Flight, might seem far afield from the standard practice of a jazz player. Likewise, an unaccompanied guitar concert favoring compositionally based works over openly improvisational music might seem an abrupt rerouting for an OTS show. To that thinking, Hammond offered two dramatically reworked excerpts from his Humanity Suite album, a sextet project encompassing swing, classical and free jazz elements. Last night, that music became a stark folk reflection on 6 string that highlighted spotless tone within a quiet but beautifully pensive folk framework.
The audience members seemed especially appreciative of the whole mix, but none so much as daughter Lola, who casually walked up and awarded her father with a hug late into the set. Now that’s what you call a rave review.