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> Beyond The Foggy Highway (2005)



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Read the All Music Guide review of Beyond The Foggy Highway

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Ever wonder what it would sound like if I simply played electric guitar with a band of live musicians? This album is one way to find out.

Chris Opperman is a pianist and composer who I played with, off and on, from mid-2001 up until early 2005. Beyond The Foggy Highway is a live album, compiling performances from various groups Chris led during that time, and I appear on several cuts on the record.

For better or worse, this is mostly a "warts and all" affair; nearly everything here was recorded live to two-track, which means that there wasn't really any way to fix mistakes. Some of the selections here were edited in a large-scale sense - meaning that sections were sometimes chopped out, and performances whittled down to the way they appear on record - but this is still a pretty raw document of in-the-moment playing.

Perhaps inevitably, then, I find the record to be a bit of a mixed bag. The opening track, "The Vampire Lestat," is actually taken from the soundcheck from that particular gig (at a San Diego venue called Lestat's - geddit?) The whole idea behind soundchecking before a gig is to literally check the relative levels of all of the instruments, making sure all of the musicians can hear each other clearly, and are ready to play, before they start the gig proper. To my ears, the guitar playing here - taken as the soundcheck noodling that it was, with tentative notes and cliche'd blues lines (some of them stupendously out of tune) - is OK. Taken as an actual musical statement (which is not how I intended it at the time), my playing sounds pretty incoherent to me, and in spite of some interesting contributions from the rest of the band, it's my least favorite cut on the entire record.

Things improve immeasurably to my ears when I next show up on track 3, "Miles Behind." This is a duo performance between Chris and I, from fall of 2002 at the Crooked Bar on the Sunset Strip. It's a very simple and pretty composition of Opperman's, and I'm quite happy with the dynamic of the performance and my playing; of the cuts I appear on, this is easily my favorite track from the CD. It's also nice that this tune has been singled out as a highlight of the record in a number of the reviews that have cropped up.

Track 4, "Reap The Whirlwind," is a pretty storming instrumental jam in a Live-Evil-era Miles David vein, taken from the Lestat's gig (by which time I'd thankfully managed to tune my guitar). I only played a couple of shows with the rhythm section of Issac Slape and Kevin Dooley, but they were a spirited and highly dynamic pair, and this is a good slice of what they could cook up. Track 7, "In Sophia's Silent Dream," is another duet between Opperman and myself, this one dating back to 2001. It moves from a very placid, In A Silent Way-style improv, into a rendition of Opperman's song "Sophia's Dream," and is a nice, laid-back interlude track, even if it does have the dubious distinction of "featuring" what may be my single sloppiest guitar performance ever to be released publicly.

Tracks 8 and 12 are the next spots I show up; "Beware the Random Factor" and "The Walls Are Coming Down" are songs from previous Opperman albums, both of which were originally recorded as pared-down, subdued, quasi-chamber music compositions, but are reworked here as intense electric band vehicles. "Random Factor" has an extremely cryptic and obtuse chord progression to solo over, while "The Walls Are Coming Down" has the band vamping in 13/8 behind me. So these aren't easy vehicles for a soloist to sleepwalk through, by any means. I'm not quite as taken with my work on these two tracks as I am with "Miles Behind," but I still feel pretty good about the guitar work on them.

One question I get from people fairly often is, "Have you ever tried using your Echoplex with a live band?" Track 14, "Build A Funky Loop," offers something of an answer. I'd already played a seperate solo set at Lestat's the same night as the Opperman band gig, and still had my looping rig set up when the band set began. At one point during the show, Chris looked over his set list, announced into the microphone that he didn't feel like playing any of these songs, and then looked at me and told me to play a song called "Build A Funky Loop."

Beyond the initial build-up of the Echoplex part, there's not a whole hell of a lot of looping on the album version of "Build A Funky Loop." That's because during the performance, shortly after granting Opperman's wish, the band lost track of the Echoplex groove; what you hear on the final album is heavily edited, with a large chunk of the improv (and its rhythmic messiness) edited out. That's not a criticism of any of the band members, though, because playing along with an electronic loop is a tricky thing on several levels. First, you need to be able to hear the loop clearly; secondly, you need to be able to hear a distinct rhythm in the loop; and thirdly, you need to be able to follow an unwavering, metronomically precise digital sample which cannot, and will not, make any timing adjustments to any other musicians.

So, looping in a band context is not something to be taken lightly or casually, which is why I've always been seriously outspoken against trying it out in live performances without adequate preparation. In spite of all this, though, the final track as it appears on the CD isn't bad (even if it is ironically low on its ultimate overall loop-quotient.)

Following "Build A Funky Loop" is the punningly-titled "Don't Forget About Dre," which is about 30 seconds of chilled-out rhythm section vamping, with some very sparse chordal guitar work (from myself, I guess) lingering in the background. Its role in the album really is more of a segueway between the previous and following tracks, rather than as a distinct musical entity of its own. (As it happens, the song selection and track placement on the overall record is surprisingly subtle and effective throughout, and goes a long way towards giving the record an overall cohesion.)

Like a lot of live albums, Beyond The Foggy Highway is exciting, unpredictable, messy, raw, self-indulgent, and surprising at various turns. There are moments that make me cringe, but also plenty of ones that I'm quite happy with and proud of.