The soundscapes that kept the Morris Book Store open a little past closing hour earlier tonight were part of the Outside the Spotlight Series of jazz directed improvisational music performances. But in reality, it was tough to peg the music Ross Hammond had on display as jazz in any strict sense.
Granted, the Lexington-born guitarist has established himself as a potent electric player in a variety of collaborative jazz projects on the West Coast for many years. But here at home, Hammond travelled an altogether different route. Over the course of an hour, he assembled six instrumental pieces for unaccompanied 12 string acoustic guitar that seemed to defy genre classification.
The distinguishing factor for the selections was Hammond’s recent folk and spirituals album Flight. But the record essentially served as a blueprint for even newer (and newly revised) pieces built around the rhythmic flow established by the 12 string. The lyrical appeal and the tunes’ overall spaciousness suggested European inspiration. But in several instances, Hammond briefly colored the music with slide guitar, which provided his playing with accents of American primitive music in general and revered guitar stylist John Fahey in particular.
But Hammond’s performance style was not nearly as brittle as Fahey’s. Songs like How Old is Your Face? and How Does a Monkey Write a Song? (with titles and inspiration suggested by the guitarist’s daughter) sounded largely meditative with only the slightest of melodies growing out of the 12 string’s richly orchestrated flow.
The comparatively pensive feel of For Miep Gies, however, opened the lyricism up to where it felt more in line with the patient, internalized playing of the great ECM guitarist Ralph Towner.
Consider Fahey and Towner more as references within Hammond’s music as opposed to strict stylistic influences. During a nearly unrecognizable reading of This Little Light of Mine, the tone and flow of Hammond’s playing answered to no one, sounding less like a rural spiritual and more like a pastoral folk-jazz reverie. Like the rest of this intimate, unamplified and beautifully immediate performance, influences were strictly support players for a sound that was serenely Hammond’s own creation.