Parallel Guitar Universes
There was a wide world of guitars at Eric Clapton's Crossroads festival in Chicago in July-- but not the whole wide world. Altitude (Thirsty Ear), by the duo Groundtruther, is a pair of parallel universes unto itself. On one CD, guitarist Charlie Hunter, drummer Bobby Previte and guest keyboardist John Medeski play miniature pieces of watery, free improvisation. More grounded and thrilling is a second disc on which Hunter -- well known for playing a seven-string instrument, not famous enough for what he does with it -- rips through the air with superrock fuzz and fusion mettle. Asmodeus (Tzadik), guitarist Marc Ribot's power-trio setting of John Zorn pieces, is just as furious, a shotgun union of Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys, Sonny Sharrock's free-blues ecstasy and Zorn's radical Jewish-music explorations. Then there is the elusive Massacre. Ex-Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith and bassist Bill Laswell formed the free-rock trio in 1980, then revived it in 1998 with This Heat drummer Charles Hayward. Lonely Heart is live and hairy, mostly recorded at the 2003 Roskilde Festival, where the band opened for -- yes -- Metallica. All you have to do is ride the lightning.
Clapton's British Folk Hero
At Crossroads, when I asked Clapton whom he forgot to invite, he replied, "Bert Jansch. God, the heart of the English folk scene. Why did I not pick up on that one?" Jansch, with John Renbourn, were in turn the twin-guitar heart of Pentangle, a British quintet that, in the late Sixties and early Seventies, made a daring, remarkable folk music of its own. With a quietly powerful rhythm section, drummer Terry Cox and bassist Danny Thompson, and the golden-spear voice of Jacqui McShee, Pentangle fused traditional balladry, modern jazz, raga and the North African fundamentals of American blues. The Time Has Come 1967-1973 (Castle Music) is a deep, captivating four-CD study of their original studio and live recordings, including a previously unissued, epic concert version of their signature piece, "Pentangling," that is a world of exquisite-guitar wonder in itself.
Zappa's Epic "Revenge"
The first eight and a half minutes of Buffalo (Vaulternative) -¬ two CDs of a previously unissued Frank Zappa gig, recorded in New York in 1980 -¬ is instrumental wow: Zappa on lead guitar, charging through "Chunga's Revenge." That alone is worth good dough. The rest of the show pays off big too.