Junk Genius

Ghost of Electricity

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It's interesting that while many of N.Y.C.'s downtown jazz players are aggressively assimilating diverse international musics into their languages and repertoires that the Bay Area-based Junk Genius should again turn their attention towards a distinctly American musical tradition. While their self-titled debut album documented the group's fierce deconstructions of the bebop standards of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and many others, the sublime Ghost of Electricity finds them drawing inspirational fuel from the immense and varied fabric of American folk music. The band performs all original music by its two ringleaders, clarinetist Ben Goldberg and guitarist John Schott, compositions that could conceivably fit comfortably in between the Carter Family and Dock Boggs in the Harry Smith Folkways Anthology. Stunningly recorded, the album is soaked with a brooding, troubled energy that one suspects tormented many a forgotten bluesman. Predictably, most of the tracks are based around simple and inviting themes, and when the band moves from the composed material into improvised terrain, they do so tentatively. One of the happy exceptions to this rule is "Hollersdale," a breakneck romp which conjures images of a knee-slapping hoe-down breaking out at a late-'60s free jazz performance and allows the delightfully unslick rhythm section of bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer Kenny Wollesen to flex their muscles without turning the tune into an odd-meter jazz workout. Of the more relaxed tracks, "Aberdeen" is a heart-breaking gem, with Schott putting aside his electric axe to breathe pure soul from a national steel guitar. From start to finish, Ghost of Electricity is a powerful and enjoyable document that rewards repeated listens. And with that, the listener can only hope that other young musicians will not forget to occasionally point their ears closer to home.

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