The Hiram Bullock Trio
Sweet Rhythm, April 4, 2003:
I take the train into Manhattan to go to Sweet Rhythm, formally called Sweet Basil’s. I received e-mail from Carolyn Owerka to come see The Hiram Bullock Trio appearing there tonight. I last saw Hiram Bullock with The Gil Evans Orchestra at The Kool Jazz Festival, Avery Fisher Hall, on June 22, 1984. Sweet Rhythm is located at 88 7th Ave. South in the West Village. This club exudes quality and is steeped in jazz tradition and history.
I sit directly in front to get good pictures. The manager says its O.K. to photograph as long as the band agrees, cool! My waitress Jill serves me quickly and graciously. The food is fresh and tasty and really hits the spot. Alex Blake arrives, gives me a warm welcome, and begins warming up his bass. His poor little bass takes such an incredible beating. I bet his bass just loves the rough stuff. I help Alex move some music stands out of the way of my camera range. Alex Blake sits down to give me an interview before the show begins. Alex really has an amazing story to tell. I sit and listen attentively as we trace back through all his years of growing up and playing music with some of the greatest jazz musicians in America. The interview can be viewed in it’s entirety at the end of this review.
The Hiram Bullock Trio starts playing around 8:45 P.M. The opening tune is the tremendous Joe Zawinul signature composition, “Birdland,” from Weather Report. Hiram Bullock plays the anthem melody line on electric guitar. The drummer, Victor Jones, plays hard and funky double-time right hand on the hi-hat. Hiram flashes an excellent lead break on his guitar. Alex Blake is blasting the bass, very percussive and complemented by excellent skat vocals along the melody line. The bass solo has Alex slapping violently in rhythmic ecstasy. Victor Jones takes an innovative drum solo starting calmly with a straightforward percussive approach technique. The jam opens up with Hiram switching to piano. Victor stretches for some unique drum sounds as he is tapping on the edge of the large 24” ride cymbal to achieve a clear bell sound. This is a funky fusion version of “Birdland.”
The second number is a Miles Davis composition, “Kinda Blue.” Hiram plays a Wes Montgomery style intro with octaves and lead melody on his electric guitar. Victor Jones executes excellent brush technique. Alex plays resounding ‘fat’ bass notes with controlled bottom sustain and selected flourishes and arpeggio bursts. Hiram play a tasteful, well-executed lead and then re-emphasizes that Wes Montgomery octave styling. Alex kicks up a feverish double-time passage on his bass as Hiram breaks into a hot electric lead on his modified Stratocaster guitar. The band plays creative modulations from cut-time blues to double-time edgy electric jam. Victor Jones’ drum solo demonstrates excellent use of time and space. Alex Blake plays double-time strumming with his right hand while skat vocalizing in unison with his bass solo. This cat is crazy! I laugh out loud! Alex plays the triplet ‘giddy up’ rhythm and spontaneous emotional slapping with the utmost rhythmic dexterity. Alex, take us OUT! Then the band changes back to the root with slow moody sensuous blues.
The third musical entry is very contrastingly up-tempo. Alex kicks it up a notch. The band is rockin’; now its jam time. Alex leads with strong rhythmic syncopation and the energy level starts to sizzle. A small passage of the “Bonanza” theme is added for comedic effect. Hiram Bullock plays an excellent jazz-fusion lead guitar break. Hiram, let it rip! The band is red hot! Victor Jones has two snare drums to create an unusually unique sound and visual presentation; excellent drum solo.
Song four has Hiram on piano. This tune has nice creative melodic development with skat vocals over the beautiful melody. Victor uses mallets on his drum kit. Alex’s bass is reserved and following. This creates a subtle and quiet ensemble mood and the musical approach is thoughtful and controlled. This very unusual and distinctive melodic development, contains mellow leads and smooth chord melodies. Hiram takes an excellent lead guitar break featuring ‘outside’ dissonance and flash arpeggios. The tempo changes to hot and rocky then modulates to a slick jazz tempo breakout. The inventive chord melody is developed to the utmost, and a very unusual lead dissonance is played against this melodic creativity. Alex takes a bass solo and goes off. He goes into his rhythmic double-time strumming accompanied by the ever present and articulate skat vocals, punctuated by accents and slaps with his right hand on the bass strings. This hot & heavy playing is sharply contrasted by a change to a cut-time sequence with Hiram returning to the piano. The band shows it controlled versatility by going to a Latin tempo change seamlessly. Victor plays the tempo succinctly with the reverse stick snare attack and his unique hitting of the edge of the cymbals to get this crystal clear bell sound. Victor’s drum solo is purposely uneven with his clever use of rests for space. With his two snare drums he creates very unusual percussive dynamics. He displays virtuoso control over the trap set with wild rolls, cut-time tempo changes and abrupt cymbal accents. The band breaks into a hot and loud Latin passage. The band is smokin’ the Latin tempo with intensely wild lead guitar and skat vocals that mirror the melodic lead. The band is cookin’; Hiram kickin’ it! The band is wild. Go Alex! Now we go OUT! The band shows incredible control by quickly going down dynamically and playing touch quiet.
Song five is, “Moondance,” from Van Morrison. The band plays down on the ones; Hiram on guitar and lead vocals. I help out with almost forgotten lyrics. Hiram switches to piano and executes a tremendous piano lead break. Alex takes a bass solo of double-time strumming; rhythmic and percussive mayhem with slick skat vocals. Alex goes into the forefinger and thumb triplet strum and plays the double-time frenzy to take it out! Alex’s fingers flow melodically over the bass strings playing notes frantically and spontaneously. What genius performance levels are achieved right here. Victor switches to brushes and does a double snare feature passage. He executes deliberate and clear paradiddles on the snare drums. The band rocks out after another verse of lyrics. Alex and Hiram do an answer/response skat vocal jam.
The band breaks into a funky jam that is syncopated and stylized. This jam becomes song six, “James Brown Town.” Hiram plays a super hot lead guitar break, this lead is smokin’, hot, heavy and loud. Alex’s bass lead break is complemented by his virtuoso skat vocal accompaniment. The band displays excellent musicianship by going dynamically low and quiet, then quickly changing to a rhythmically contrasting funky scratch riff. Victor takes an amazing drum solo. Honey-Do daddy! The last song before the break, the band displays excellent chord melodies featuring triads to octaves. The band lets loose. Smokin’! Hiram cooks a hot, hot, lead break. WOW!
The band breaks and Alex takes a minute to regain his composure. He soon rejoins me at my table to finish up his curiously intriguing interview. The Hiram Bullock Trio smokes Sweet Rhythm tonight. Each musician shines brightly and displays amazing chops and musical insight drawn from their experience and superior musical ability. The loose jam approach allows each individual musician the latitude to explore the melodic and rhythmic cosmos that jazz allows in the unrestrained confines of the creative galaxies of the unknown. This was some incredible, incredible playing tonight, amazing!
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