Hiram Bullock

From All Sides

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Hiram Bullock's Warner Bros. debut as a leader is a mixed bag. Bullock was, upon arrival, already an expert session guitarist and producer when he cut this set. (One of the jewels in his crown is Mike Stern's first album as a leader, the almighty Neesh, which was released only in Japan and has never seen the light of day on American shores.) This self-produced set includes eight Bullock originals plus a nice reading of Don Grolnick's "Cactus." The band features many of the same musicians Bullock still works with: drummer Charley Drayton, bassist Will Lee, and Cliff Carter on keyboards, as well as some stellar guest appearances by the late Kenny Kirkland and saxophonist David Sanborn. Bullock has never really considered himself a jazz artist -- and it doesn't matter, ultimately. What is here is an uneven yet enjoyable collection of tunes featuring his understated guitar work, his skill in creating something that embodied what was considered "smooth" or contemporary jazz at the time, his excellent pop sensibility in which vamps and hooks are key, and his ability to get what he wanted at the time from a recording studio. Bullock's voice has always been flat and rather emotionless, so that's annoying, but it will always be, and so is the dated-sounding production, which was probably state-of-the-art at the time. Bullock's "Funky Broadway" is the clear winner on this set, with an expanded horn section that includes Michael Brecker and the Uptown Horns. Other notables are the opener, "Window Shoppin'," with its smoking guitar vamp, and the aforementioned "Cactus," which is a classic tune any way you cut it. While Way Kool, recorded in 1992, is a better bet, this is by no means unworthy, and fans of Bullock's signature style both as a guitarist and songwriter are in full evidence on From All Sides.

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