oregon’s horse feathers flock with kentucky players

Horse Feathers: Robby Cosenza, J. Tom Hnatow, Justin Ringle and Nathan Crockett.

What happens when an Oregon indie pop stylist, stationed for a time in North Carolina, is in need of a working band for an unexpected touring opportunity? Why, he heads to Kentucky, of course.

That’s the situation then-Portland, now-Astoria based song stylist Justin Ringle, the ringmaster behind the Northwestern folk-pop troupe Horse Feathers, was in a few years ago. After completing duties as producer for the Asheville band River Whyless, a touring offer presented itself even though there was no working road version of Horse Feathers available. So Ringle called up a pair of Lexington pals, drummer Robby Cosenza and guitarist J. Tom Hnatow, as well as longstanding Horse Feathers violinist Nathan Crockett. The partnership wasn’t entirely new. Ringle had shared bills with Cosenza and Hnatow during their tenure in the multi-state rock collective These United States. But Ringle wasn’t just after a quick-fix band to hit the road with. He was pursuing a whole new artistic and sonic temperament.

“Back in 2016, when I was working in Asheville, I got called to do a tour in a pinch,” Ringle said. “Geographically, Tom and Robby were the closest people I knew so I gave them a call. One thing led to another and it just became evident that it was going to be a fresh start working in Kentucky.”

“We met probably 10 or 12 years ago,” Cosenza added. “We would cross paths on the road all the time and always admired each other as players. I think it just made more sense for Justin to find something closer than Astoria or Portland, but I think he was also looking to ramp things up a bit. He called Tom and said, ‘You guys aren’t available, are you?’ We were like, ‘Sure.’ He was taking a shot in the dark and it worked out.”

The tour led to sessions for the sixth Horse Feathers album, “Appreciation.” Recorded largely at La-La Land Studios in Louisville and Shangri-La in Lexington, Horse Feathers cemented the working alliance between Ringle, Cosenza and Hnatow while expanding the band’s previously studied and subtle indie folk sound. What resulted was a fuller rock, pop and soul charge that often echoed the exuberance of a vintage Van Morrison record.

“There were so many new perspectives I explored that came from doing a lot of the record in Kentucky,” Ringle said. “It was the first time I recorded outside of the state of Oregon. Robby and Tom helped greatly because they had been working in styles I don’t regularly experiment with. They’ve sat in on a lot of country, Americana and soul sessions. They’ve done work with all types of bands.

“It just came across as a band vibe,” Cosenza said of the “Appreciation” recording sessions. “It wasn’t like Tom and I were hired guns. We all wrote together, we arranged together. It clicked pretty naturally. A lot of times, Tom and I would be goofing off on a tune and that would be the stuff Justin would go, ‘Man, what was that? Use it.”

Recording so far from home might suggest an air of displacement in the new Horse Feathers songs. It’s there, for sure, but not because of the Bluegrass connection.

“I had felt a sense of displacement because I had moved from where I had lived for the previous decade,” Ringle said. “I moved out of Portland to the Southeast and then, consequently, to the Oregon coast. I had also started a new relationship, so there’s a number of themes about everything that goes into that – good and bad. But one of the biggest things artistically, aside from the songwriting and themes, was that I really wanted to explore some sonic differences that I hadn’t really gotten underneath the hood with. I hadn’t really explored full blown rock ‘n’ roll dynamics. I hadn’t explored soul. I hadn’t explored a number of those things. I had to surrender to an experiment.

“We ended up with a sound I didn’t anticipate, but one that I felt really resonated for me and for the band. We were all like, ‘Wow, this is working in a way that none of us expected.”

Horse Feathers, Bendigo Fletcher and Daisy Helmuth perform at 9 tonight at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. Tickets: $15, $18 at theburlky.com.

in performance: the wood brothers/nicole atkins

The Wood Brothers, from left: Jano Rix, Oliver Wood and Chris Wood. Photo by Alysse Gafkjen.

After nearly an hour’s worth of tunes that began as a rootsy acoustic incantation and ended with a rhythm-savvy charge worthy of a New Orleans street parade, the Wood Brothers all but shut the show down last night at the Kentucky Theatre. With the trio huddled around a single microphone, the music was pared down to an almost primordial level of folk aesthetics.

There, vocalist Oliver Wood, sibling bassist Chris Wood and percussionist Jano Rix (doubling, at this moment, on melodica) stood playing the faintest of music in the faintest of light. Specifically, what was summoned was the title tune to the 2013 album “The Muse.” The overall feel, though, was that of a decades-old séance, a mood Chris Wood dubbed “O, Wood Brothers, Where Art Thou?” The song also served as the eye of a hurricane, one that merrily slapped together blues, folk, pop, a hint of country and a touch of jazz for a sound that rolled with the assurance of a freight train for just under two hours. Not coincidentally, a cover of the 60-plus year old Elizabeth Cotton folk gem “Freight Train” was later served as a lullaby-like encore before a barnstorming blues-rock mash-up of “Honey Jar” closed the performance for real.

What continually made the Wood Brothers such a distinct and intriguing combo was, ironically, a very familiar formula – a strong, unified sound made up of three distinct components, all of which were in top form last night.

Oliver Wood proved the unassuming frontman, an artist whose singing was as focused and unfussy as his playing. He served as the soulful carnival barker for the Crescent City-flavored “One More Day” but also folded the music into darker yet ultimately warmer corners for the campfire-like confessional “Sing About It.”

While his guitar work, especially wiry steel guitar leads utilized throughout the show, served as functional color for the music, the trio’s pilot was clearly Chris Wood. Playing the first half of the program by applying an atypically jazzy dexterity to the upright bass (atypical, at least, for a non-jazz outing) and then adding thunderous leads and grooves to the second half on an electric Hofner bass, brother Chris underscored the show’s impressive rhythmic and stylistic dexterity. He also took an absorbing vocal lead on “The Shore,” a groove parade built from a bass/harmonica framework that remained spacious enough for a few shades of guitar psychedelia to shine through.

Riding shotgun throughout all of this was Rix, a stand-up percussionist (on the guitar-shaped percussion device dubbed the shuitar) as well as a sit down drummer that regularly doubled on keyboards. From his Rhodes-like keyboard runs during a cover of “Big Boss Man” late in the set to the mix of ragged keys and drums that produced a sound nicely reminiscent of The Band on “Sparkling Wine,” Rix was the fire that fueled the Wood Brothers’ inventive engine room.

An especially nice bonus to last night’s performance was a 35 minute opening set by Nashville-by-way-of-New Jersey songstress Nicole Atkins. An artist with an almost cinematic feel for pop tradition, as well as a voice capable of showing off numerous shades from such a scope, Atkins worked her way into a sense of pop grandeur with “Cry, Cry, Cry,” sang with the reach and aim of Roy Orbison on “A Little Crazy” and echoed numerous girl group sensibilities from the 1960s on the set-closing “Listen Up.” A commanding introduction to an especially fine performance evening.

the musical stew of the wood brothers

The Wood Brothers: Jano Rix, Oliver Wood, Chris Wood. Photo by Alysse Gafkjen.

Digging into a Wood Brothers tune pretty much requires a check list.

A slinky guitar riff born out of the blues but industrious enough to fit most any roots-savvy groove? Check that. Brother Oliver Wood has you covered.

A rubbery bass line that sounds fittingly rustic yet is soulfully funky enough to always seem in motion? Check that. Brother Chris Wood is on the job when then kind of combo commences.

A percussion charge that can sound jagged and loose on one tune but rugged enough on another to fuel a solemn shuffle? Check that. Non-sibling Wood Brother Jano Rix is the guy keeping that groove going.

Smack all that together and you have the recipe the Wood Brothers have been following for the past 14 years. From the earthy tunes offered on “Live at Tonic,” a now out-of-print 2005 EP disc of the band’s very first performance (cut when Oliver and Chris played as a duo) to the ultra-indie design of 2018’s “One Drop of Truth,” a record the trio lineup cut and produced on its own without outside guests, the music of Wood Brothers has been a fresh but largely borderless blend of blues, funk, jam-friendly folk and jubilant rock and soul.

Oliver Wood, however, doesn’t play favorites. He sees all these colliding genres as one musical language.

“It’s just part of the palette with all of the different influences,” he said. “When you have three different guys who have overlapping tastes, different elements are brought in that we feel passionate about. I think, as in any band, that creates a distinctive sound. It’s like it’s a stew or a recipe that is unique to that band. Other people do that, too, but we have our own take on it. We put it together and it’s our little stew.”

A Colorado native, Oliver Wood spun off to Atlanta, landing in the blues band of guitarist Tinsley Ellis and eventually the roots music troupe King Johnson. Chris Wood landed at the New England Conservatory of Music before moving to New York and eventual membership in the popular avant jazz, jam and funk collective Medeski Martin & Wood. Rix, who utilizes a conventional drum kit as well as a modified guitar called a shuitar that is played as a percussion instrument, made the Wood Brothers a trio in 2011.

“Jano has been with us for seven years now, so his role has evolved,” Oliver Wood said. “He helped create some of the real signature noises you hear coming off the stage and the records. From the beginning, he totally fit us.

“I think when musicians get together, they sort of meet in the middle. They just kind of take awhile. With my brother and myself, it was instant just because we grew up together. With Jano or any other member, it takes a little longer. But eventually you get there. You meet in the middle and find a new language where you connect eventually. The way you wind up communicating with that musical language is really cool.”

Though “One Drop a Truth” was a purposely self-contained effort, the Wood Brothers have long been open to the idea of collaboration. Americana favorite Buddy Miller produced the band’s 2013 album “The Muse” while the Wood Brothers found themselves jamming with Hot Tuna and Tedeschi Trucks Band on the latter’s 2017 Wheel of Soul Tour.

But the band’s hybrid sound remains very much its own in any setting. Oliver Wood said that’s a result of unavoidably emulating the rock and soul sounds of the stylists that came before them. Then again, the singer admitted that’s standard operating procedure for most any artist.

“I’m a Ray Charles fan, but I’ll never sound like Ray Charles,” he said. “I’ll probably try some twisted, lame version of it that ends up morphing into something cool. A lot of my heroes did that, like the (Rolling) Stones. They tried to imitate the American blues guys and ended up with their own sound. There are countless examples of that.

“I think that’s how people’s original voices come out. It starts by emulating. They may fail to some degree, but their own personalities emerge. I think we all do that. Take a group of guys that are all doing that to some degree and you find that music is in your DNA.”

The Wood Brothers and Nicole Atkins perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets: $25. Call 859-231-7924 or go to kentuckytheater.com.

 

 

in performance: noam pikelny and stuart duncan

noam pikelny (left) and stuart duncan.

“We walked all the way from Nashville,” remarked Noam Pikelny as he and Stuart Duncan entered The Burl last night with their instruments – at least, the ones not already awaiting them onstage – still packed in cases as if they were carting around luggage. But the two quickly made themselves at home with their first banjo/fiddle duet concert in Lexington and their first collaborative show of any kind in two years.

The resulting display of sterling acoustic music prided itself in genre juggling. Bluegrass may have sat the heart of their playing, especially in the instrumental runs that distinguished the show-opening medley of “Brushy Fork of John’s Creek” and “Mason’s Apron.” But even there, the two peeled any grassy intent back to a sense of traditional Celtic fancy.

Another medley paired the Shetland fiddle inspirations of “Laird O’Drumblair” with the more New Grass flavored Pikelny original “My Mother Thinks I’m a Lawyer.” The merger was so playfully but deftly executed that the two tunes sounded like they grew up around the block from each other.

From there, the banjo/fiddle combination appropriated music previously excavated by John Hartford, Merle Haggard, Tommy Jarrell and, perhaps expectedly, Bill Monroe. But for all of the sense of tradition that surrounded the music of the latter, Pikelny and Duncan chose a decidedly unobvious route to travel – namely one that took them to works interpreted four decades ago by the maverick Monroe fiddler Kenny Baker. But the arrangements, by Pikelny, of “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” and “Wheel Hoss” transposed much of the fiddle charm of Baker’s versions to banjo. Still, the resulting dialogue with fiddler Duncan gave both players ample room to survey the compositional depth of Monroe’s music as well as the invention within Baker’s playing.

Mostly, though, the performance was a relaxed acoustic evening with a pair of unassuming virtuosos. Banjoist Pikelny makes his way to the region every few years, either with his day-job band Punch Brothers or his solo work. Duncan, however, almost never performs in Central Kentucky in such an intimate setting. Worth the walk from Nashville? Absolutely. What’s a bit of lost shoe leather when the music was this fine?

 

in performance: brandon seabrook trio/quin kirchner quartet

Quin Kirchner.

Just a few songs into his set last night at the University of Kentucky’s Niles Gallery, Brandon Seabrook shared a story of a chance encounter at a gas station with saxophonist and vanguard free jazz ambassador Anthony Braxton.

“It was like meeting the Pope,” the guitarist said.

Given their respective performance fields, that’s understandable. The level of immediacy and abstraction favored by guitarist Seabrook, cellist Daniel Levin and bassist Henry Fraser would have probably pleased Braxton, an artist a generation removed from Seabrook, to no end. Stylistically, though the rhythmic shards and brittle electric riffs better resembled the more experimental music of Marc Ribot. In other words, the Brooklyn-based Seabrook employed pace, rhythmic displacement, pedal-induced echo effects and ensemble phrases that often became stuttering arpeggios to fuel the tunes from his new “Convulsionaries” albums. The album’s six compositions constituted the entirety of the Seabrook Trio’s set.

The selling point to such purposeful disharmony, though, was watching how visibly involved Seabrook was as he tore through the jagged edges of “Crux Accumulator” and the set-opening “Bovicidal.” These were not easy avenues to navigate for timid ears. But if the resulting music wasn’t immediately accessible, it became, thanks to Seabook’s very outward performance demeanor, quite inviting.

This Outside the Spotlight performance was a double-bill closed by out by the Quin Kirchner Quintet, which was reduced to a four-piece unit following the single-evening recruitment of trombonist Nick Broste by pop maverick Bonnie Prince Billy.

That hardly cut into the orchestrated colors Chicago drummer Kirchner created. Operating with the novel front line instrumentation of tenor saxophonist Nate Lepine and bass clarinetist Jason Stein, the group often recalled the late ‘60s recordings of Pharoah Sanders in the way percussion and winds created dense and almost danceable grooves.

The nods to the past weren’t coincidental. The bulk of the set was devoted to works by such cross generational stylists as Kelan Phil Cohran (a sleek reading of “Sahara” assuredly piloted by bassist Matt Ulery but initiated by Kirchner on what seemed to be an amplified kalimba), Andrew Hill and Charles Mingus (a regally rhythmic mash-up of “Limbo” and “The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive Ass Slippers”) and Paul Motian (whose “Mumbo Jumbo” became a showcase for Lepine and Stein but ultimately a set-up piece for the only drum solo of the evening).

The curiosity in Kirchner’s set was the occasional use of sampled effects and electronics, most notably on the piano mimicry that introduced the original “Together We Can Explore the Furthest Beyond” (which screamed Sanders just in its title). But such augmentation was modestly utilized to enhance rather than puncture the group’s rich and retro feel.

in performance: thomas rhett/brett young/midland

Thomas Rhett. Photo by John Shearer.

Within the space of about 15 minutes last night at Rupp Arena, Thomas Rhett offered up two songs, both metaphorical nods to fashionable attire that, whether intentional or not, spoke to the stylistic preferences of his modern minded, but quite appealing performance.

The first was “T-Shirt,” a blast of hook-heavy pop largely devoid of country sentiment save for its almost requisite thematic promiscuity. The garment in question, of course, is admired most when it’s being worn by someone other than its owner.

The other was a pert cover of “Suit and Tie,” a tune that was also paraded at Rupp two weeks earlier by its originator, Justin Timberlake. Last night, though, it possessed a pop formality that served as a coda to the 2013 Rhett party piece “Make Me Wanna.”

It was an intriguing dichotomy. Rhett, donning a t-shirt onstage like the one detailed in the former tune while embracing a country-less pop exuberance the Timberlake song strived for.

A suit-and-tie guy in a t-shirt world – that was essentially the profile Rhett adopted for his Rupp debut.

One could dismiss such an identity crisis as the by-product of just another country crossover wannabe were it not for the fact that Rhett navigated the pop highways and boulevards of his music with such assuredness that it was hard not getting swept up in the fun, whether it was through the broad dance-pop assertions within “Gimme Some of That,” the summery bounce bolstering the title tune to his 2017 album “Life Changes” or the lighter and abundantly radio-savvy feel of “Star of the Show.”

Add to that an audience-friendly demeanor that seemed quite genuine and generous and you had a rather winning pop presentation, even if its design seemed more indicative of, say, Los Angeles, than Nashville.

Speaking of Southern California, that was the pre-Nashville homeland of Brett Young, who preceded Rhett at Rupp last night. He operated from the same stylistic plateau as the headliner, but appeared nowhere near as comfortable onstage. In fact, it’s a safe bet, judging by his often stiff and choreographed movements, Young is likely very new to this kind of performance setting.

That was underscored by the fact that the singer seemed most relaxed when he sat down to sing the hit ballads “Mercy” and “In Case You Didn’t Know.” The very youngish Rupp crowd of 11,000 (an impressive turnout for a “country” show on a Thursday night) didn’t mind, though, as they awarded Young with a kind of American Idol-level zeal.

In all honesty, the hit of the evening was opening act Midland, an Austin, Tx. trio (augmented by a guitarist and drummer) whose members dressed like they stepped out of 1971 and sounded like they stepped out of 1981.

A little bit retro, a little Lone Star honky tonk and largely unassuming in their presentation of tunes like “Check Cashin’ Country” (song title of the year there, folks) and “Burn Out,” Midland mainstays Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy made the most daring statement of the evening – that it was cool to actually sound like a country band.

marty balin, 1942-2018

Jefferson Airplane in 1967 on the cover of “Surrealistic Pillow.” Back row: Jack Casady, Grace Slick, Marty Balin. Front row: Jorma Kaukonoen, Paul Kantner, Spencer Dryden.

Any contemporary band is defined by its lead singer. That role might not always dictate the musical vision of the ensemble at hand, but the vocalist is the individual whose presence is most unavoidably visible. If a band happens to have more than one featured singer, the group personality either becomes more diverse or fractures entirely.

During it psychedelic heyday, between 1966 and 1970, the Jefferson Airplane utilized four lead singers – two were exclusively vocalists (Marty Balin and Grace Slick), two others, featured less frequently, doubled as guitarists (Jorma Kaukonen and Paul Kantner). For many, it was Slick – a fashionable and authoritative presence on and off stage – that dominated the Airplane’s vocal crew. But Balin, who died Thursday at the age of 76, largely set the standard for the band’s flight pattern and offered, nearly a decade latter, an out-of-nowhere hit.

Balin was a singer versed in pop and poetry, a blend that propelled the Airplane’s 1966 debut album, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” a record cut prior to Slick’s involvement and the full emergence of Kaukonen and Kantner as singing alternatives. But it was with the vanguard 1967 recording “Surrealistic Pillow” that Balin’s broader pop profile revealed itself, whether it was through the uneasy calm of “Today” and “Comin’ Back to Me” or the unrelenting bravado of “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” and, especially, “Plastic Fantastic Lover,” a parable about television that bordered on funk. But the album also included two monster hits sung by the newly recruited Slick (“Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit”) as well as a critically lauded guitar instrumental by Kaukonen (“Embryonic Journey”). That meant having to share the spotlight.

The Airplane’s front line would stay intact though the recording of its leanest, most immediate album (1969’s “Volunteers”) as well as the euphoric highs and disastrous lows of two noted music festivals (Woodstock and Altamont) that reflected the extremes of late ‘60s pop counterculture. He left the band in 1970. The Airplane itself folded in 1973

There is a bizarre footnote to the band’s saga. Reborn in 1974 as Jefferson Starship (without Kaukonen or founding Airplane bassist Jack Casady), the band earned a huge No. 1 hit with 1975’s Balin written and sung “Miracles,”  an ultra smooth pop-soul crooner that placed Jefferson Starship at the very heart of the pop mainstream the Jefferson Airplane spurned a decade earlier.

Balin played Lexington only once that I know off – a May 1978 concert at Rupp Arena with Jefferson Starship, but the wings were clearly coming off at that point. It played like more a pack of disparate, discontented artists than as a actual band. A year later, Balin and Slick were gone, Southern singer Mickey Thomas was picked up and a move deep into ‘80s pop began. This was the band that became simply Starship, which still tours today.

All this makes Balin sound like a mere board member of rock ‘n’ roll conglomerate, which is perhaps what he really was. But listen to his best recorded performances, from “Comin’ Back to Me” to “Miracles,” and you hear a singer taking on the world. It’s just that there were a lot of other equally eager hands in his ranks also reaching for it.

in performance: justin timberlake

Justin Timberlake.

A certain irony revealed itself last night at Rupp Arena, triggered by the fact Justin Timberlake named his current tour after his recent “Man of the Woods” album. After all, the title conjures all sorts of naturalistic images, many of which became artfully visible through the use of multiple see-through video screens that rolled up and down during the two-hour concert, making these living postcards seem more like dancing holograms.

But that came later in the set. When Timberlake and his 20-plus member posse of singers, dancers and band members entered amid a light show that would have made Pink Floyd envious, the feel was almost space age. Then when the pop celebrity took to dancing amid showers of lasers for the show-opening “Filthy,” the concept of a man of the woods didn’t just seem foreign. It seemed non-existent.

Timberlake would, in time, slow the show down to a modestly more relaxed pace that played more to his tour and album’s stated theme – as in an acoustic sit down set around a makeshift campfire that meshed amiable hits like “Until the End of Time” with covers of tunes by Fleetwood Mac, Lauryn Hill and even John Denver that were assigned to his backup singers.

All of this woodsy congeniality was essentially a diversion from a program that began like shot from a cannon with a dance-pop party drive that didn’t even remotely dissipate until Timberlake formally greeted the crowd of 18,000 nearly an hour into the show.

From a visual standpoint, the concert was a stunner that played out on a series of three stages utilizing the entire arena floor to create an in-the-round feel. But audiences members were also planted in and around the ‘S’ formation of the stages, including one near the middle of the floor that included, no joke, its own bar.

Through that, Timberlake and his entourage moved and grooved through the beat-heavy bravado of “SexyBack,” the Marvin Gaye-ish pop-soul of “Suit and Tie” and the blasting synth-savvy orchestration of “Cry Me a River.” What unraveled was a masterful pop display with a visual aptitude that proved fashionable and functional for Timberlake’s tireless workouts.

Go beyond that, however, and things were a little problematic. For all of his physicality and good-natured exuberance, Timberlake never really caught fire as a vocalist last night. His appealing high tenor vocals were noticeably thin and, ultimately, little match for the musical weight of such a massive band. There were a few intriguing moments, like the acoustic revelry summoned during “Drink You Away” and the very focused and organically anthemic delivery of “Say Something” (far and away the best of the “Man of the Woods” tunes). But for a sizable portion of the show, Timberlake relegated himself to chief cheerleader and dance captain by letting his backup singers – and, at times, even the audience – tackle much of the heavy vocal lifting.

The other difficulty was the sound. The was one of the weakest, muddiest sound mixes for a major Rupp concert in recent memory with bass drowning out much the brass and percussive finesse of Timberlake’s band – a surprise indeed given how sharp the visual presentation of the performance was.

Such was life last night for pop music’s man of the woods – a performance star with energy to burn and audience-friendly charm by the truckload, but also with a surprising hesitancy of letting loose on the dance floor, or the pseudo-great outdoors, with a commanding howl.

in performance: cortex

Cortex. From left: Kristoffer Berre Alberts, Gard Nilssen, Ola Hoyer and Thomas Johansson. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

The Norwegian quartet Cortex set a quiet precedent when it first played the Outside the Spotlight series three years ago this week. It displayed the kind of improvisatory prowess favored by many of the more abstract minded free jazz units that have been guests of the series over the years. But what distinguished Cortex in 2015 was its sense of balance, its ability to embrace composition and groove as complimentary vehicles for the wilder improvs.

That kind of cunning was placed on abundant and appealing display again earlier tonight for an OTS return at the University of Kentucky’s Niles Gallery. Here, Cortex used foundations of blues, bop and coarse swing as enticements for more corrosive mischief.

The show opening “Standby” placed the band’s stylistic extremes in motion, locking in a unison melody line established by trumpeter Thomas Johansson and tenor saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts. Once the very Mingus-like cool of bassist Ola Hoyer was added in, the tune embraced an almost deceptive sense of swing. But the momentum remained spacious enough for drummer Gard Nilssen to guide the sound through rougher melodic waters and back to safe harbor again.

On “Chaos,” one of two tunes played from Cortex’s recent “Avant Garde Party Music” album, the sound turned more turbulent with a cyclical horn phrase by Johansson and Albert that summoned the band’s disparate melodic strategies like a reveille before dispersing them again.

There were appealing variations of these excursions, as well. “Lament” simmered the music to a slow blues boil while the set closing “Legal Tender” let the rhythm section loose with a fun, rubbery groove that Albert took several deconstructed swipes at on alto sax.

Topping it all was the new “I 797 B,” a tune named after the visa forms the band members had to contend with for its current United States tour (a trek that has already had two canceled dates due to Hurricane Florence). Like all of Cortex’s music, there was brightness to the melodic construction but also enough trap doors for various solos to break with the sense of musical order and, for a few bars, bust the room up.

in performance: ross hammond

Ross Hammond.

So what does an industrious solo guitarist with jazz, folk-blues and world music leanings do when a week’s worth of gigs get scrubbed? He heads homeward and plays for the faithful there.

That’s what Lexington-born, Sacramento, Calif.-bred Ross Hammond did this week. After a string of concert dates in Carolinas were cancelled due to the uninvited presence of Hurricane Florence, the guitarist landed some last minute pick-gigs in Central Kentucky. This afternoon’s set at CD Central was the only appearance out of Hammond’s last five scheduled shows that didn’t fall to Florence.

With the remains of the storm not due to reach Kentucky until late tonight, the guitarist created an attractive living room ambience for the South Limestone music store during a set of instrumental tunes played on steel and 6 string acoustic guitar.

The jazz accents within this performance were present in Hammond’s almost conversational sense of improvisation. But, as a whole, the set operated from a more roots-conscious, folk-blues base. The opening “Codes,” for instance, used the resonator guitar – in this case, an instrument built in Sacramento out of a vintage turkey roasting pan (seriously; check out www.turkeytone.com for details) – as a slide savvy vehicle for a wiry, but relaxed blues melody that gradually opened itself up to a bit of Eastern intrigue.

This was a game plan that played out more boldly as the set progressed. While a steel guitar reading of the blues chestnut “Sitting on Top of the World” steered to appealing back porch gospel and the nimble “McDowelling” (on the 6 string) relished in more ruggedly textured folk-blues, the title tune to Hammond’s 2017 album “Follow Your Heart” (also on the 6 string) let in another pronounced breeze from the East.

That set the stage for “May You Be Happy,” a work recorded with Indian singer and vocal improviser Jay Nair but presented here as a solo mash-up of Hindustani spiritualism and antique Western blues. The feel was very raga-esque in its contemplative stance but also folk-rooted given the steel’s expressive range and vibrancy.

All in all, an immensely inviting homecoming from a Kentucky guitar pro seeking shelter from the storm.

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