Ed DeGenaro – Less Is Seldom More
Guitarist Ed DeGenaro’s latest release, Less Is Seldom More (Unfretted Records), is a perfect follow-up to his 2007 disc Dog House. While the two albums share many of the same qualities (largely gapless playback, an eclectic mix of styles, etc), DeGenaro pushes the avant-garde fusion envelope a bit further with this new disc, and enlists an awe-inspiring lineup of musicians to help him do it.
Most people probably associate DeGenaro with fretless guitar, which is understandable; he is widely heralded for his great work on that instrument. But while there IS plenty of fretless playing on Less Is Seldom More, DeGenaro doesn’t beat you over the head with it; his approach with the fretless, at least on this recording, is usually subtle. In the hands of most players, the fretless guitar sounds like an untame-able beast. Even the simplest phrase with no slides will give it away, because they just don’t have the touch to keep it in tune, and in control. In DeGenaro’s hands, however, you usually can’t tell it’s a fretless until he wants you to. In other words, he uses the instrument for it’s unique ability to extend your own inflections and dynamics, rather than exploiting it as a novelty.
Less Is Seldom More is largely a collaborative effort between DeGenaro and producer/composer Chris Taylor. Taylor wrote or co-wrote most of the songs, and also contributes keyboards, guitars, and some programming (Taylor was involved with Dog House as well, but to a lesser extent). The list of guest musicians on this disc is as impressive as it is extensive. Along for the ride are Dave Weckl, Joel Rosenblatt, and Marco Minnemann on drums, Ric Fierabracci and Trip Wamsley on bass, George Whitty on organ, Matte Henderson and fusion legend Ray Gomez on guitar, and several others. Similarly to Dog House, Less Is Seldom More feels like one continuous fusion piece that shifts through many moods and styles. Some of those moods are more traditional than others, but throughout the disc, DeGenaro’s creativity and musicianship are loud and clear.
After a snappy blues guitar Intro, things kick into high gear with Avenue D – a hard driving jazz fusion tune with great solos by Whitty, Fierabracci, and of course DeGenaro. Even though this piece is loaded with effects and edits, it ends up being one of the more traditional-sounding songs on the album.
The next four tracks (Monkey Bawls Utility, Utilitarian Research Jam, Matte’s Bible Camp, and Confirm Walk Forward) provide the first foray into what I would call avant-garde fusion. DeGenaro takes an everything but the kitchen sink approach with some of these pieces, throwing in lots of mood shifts, instrumentation changes, you name it. There ARE occasionally heavy riffs and sheets-of-sound shredding, but there’s a lot of sonic experimentation as well. I particularly like Utilitarian Research Jam, which has a Zappa-like quality in it’s melodies. The slowly-building ballad Matte’s Bible Camp (written by Matte Henderson) is a great piece as well. The vocals that comprise one of the main themes are almost creepy, especially when they are first introduced at the beginning. Talk about evoking a mood. These four songs illustrate what’s great about the album as a whole – it’s a refreshing change from a typical fusion album that will have a set instrumentation and band that varies little from the first song to the last.
Prayer and Joe Z both feature Ray Gomez guesting on guitar, but they are actually one continuous piece split into two tracks on the disc. DeGenaro recorded Joe Z (written by Taylor as an homage to Weather Report founder Joe Zawinul) on his Dog House album as well. This new version is a bit more guitar-centric, and has less of the Indian quality that was prevalent on the Dog House version. Gomez sounds great here. The guy is an old pro who’s been around a long time; his lengthy list of recordings includes the 1976 Stanley Clarke album School Days – a fusion classic. What a great player.
DeGenaro loves to shift moods on you, as evidenced by the next track – the Buckethead-like Yes Man. This heavy tune is an incredible chops showcase for both DeGenaro and guitarist Matte Henderson (who also wrote the song). It also features some nice fretless work during the outro. The proceedings turn on a dime again with the fast country tune Neck Bone, which has DeGenaro showing off his prodigious picking skills.
DeGenaro also includes a version of the Robben Ford tune The Brother (For Jimmie & Stevie). Ford recorded the original in 1992 as a tribute to Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan. DeGenaro’s version adds a heavy intro with some spoken-word samples, but leaves the rest of the tune’s structure largely intact (except for some hide-the-downbeat monkey business). It also has some of DeGenaro’s best blues playing on the album.
After a quick Tribal Tech-style piece called One, DeGenaro launches into Southern Flyer. This in an instrumental rock tune written by John Czajkowski (Hectic Watermelon), and is clearly the most straightforward track on the disc. I love the wide interval melody on this song, and the solo section which has DeGenaro trading off with guitarist Dave Simpson. George Whitty’s organ playing gives the song a Deep Purple sort of vibe as well.
Since the album opens with Intro, it’s only natural that it closes with Outro – a beautiful piece of acoustic blues improv. Less Is Seldom More is another illustration of DeGenaro’s great strength: his ability to mix a wide variety of styles under the banner of instrumental fusion. Jazz, metal, country, blues, electronica, it’s all here, done with an experimental adventurousness that few musicians posses. The common thread through it all is DeGenaro’s great guitar work. Whether he’s playing fretless or fretted guitars, guitar synth, acoustics, etc, DeGenaro’s killer playing is well represented throughout the entire disc. Great stuff.
Ed DeGenaro – Less Is Seldom More
Ed DeGenaro (guitar/fretless guitar/guitar synth)
Ray Gomez (guitar) 7, 8
Chris Taylor (keys/guitar/programming) 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12
Dave Weckl (drums) 3, 4
Ric Fierabracci (bass) 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8
Marco Minnemann (drums) 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
George Whitty (organ) 2, 13
Joel Rosenblatt (drums) 7, 8
Matte Henderson (keys/guitar/programming) 5, 9
Trip Wamsley (bass) 11, 12, 13
Satish (trumpet) 2
Ezekiel Trosper (bass) 10
Dave Simpson (guitar) 13
Gwen Snyder (vocal) 5
2. Avenue D
3. Monkey Bawls Utility
4. Utilitarian Research Jam
5. Matte’s Bible Camp
6. Confirm Walk Forward
8. Joe Z
9. Yes Man
10. Neck Bone
11. The Brother (for Jimmie & Stevie)
13. Southern Flyer