Gary Husband: Dirty and Beautiful Vol II
Gary Husband’s latest album, Dirty & Beautiful Volume 2 , is the follow-up to the well-received Volume 1. The music manages to be both evocative and forward-looking. This is no easy trick.
All-star albums can present problems. The music can be difficult to take on tour since each song was tailored for a specific musician or band. It can also be daunting to present any sort of thematic vision for the same reason. Often, these gatherings are also weighed down by the desire to cram the CD with as much music as possible, which can lead to all-star overkill.
In this instance, in fact, there are several tunes that Husband can take on the road, and in a couple of cases, has already done so. There is something comforting in having John McLaughlin playing on “Sully,” as he has done so many times in his 4th Dimension band, or to hear Allan Holdsworth update “Fred,” a tune Pat Metheny wish he had written, or to hear Jan Hammer play on anything! (I never thought I would use the word comforting when referring to fusion music!)
The theme of the album is clearly Gary Husband’s heart. We know where Husband’s heart lies because his inspirations are all over Volume 2. In addition to his own, there are compositions from McLaughlin, Hammer, Miles Davis and Allan Holdsworth. These are his formative heroes. There are also pieces written by his contemporaries Alex Machacek and Wayne Krantz, whom he met through dealings with his record label Abstract Logix. His inspirations and compatriots are all headed to some unknown place, though by varying routes. Husband is grateful he was set on this journey, but will never rest on their laurels or his.
The line-up, much like on Volume 1, is guitar heavy. Ray Russell, Mike Stern, Wayne Krantz, Allan Holdsworth, Neil Taylor, Alex Machacek, John McLaughlin, Jimmy Herring and Robin Trower would make for one hell of a guitar festival. I don’t want to leave the other string players out. Bassists Jimmy Johnson, Teymur Phell, Mark King, Laurence Cottle and Livingstone Brown deserve their own festival.
Conjuring up a groove that at times harkens back to Weather Report’s “Mr. Gone,” and at other times to the material from John McLaughlin’s late nineties band The Heart of Things, “If The Animals Had Guns Too” gets the album off to a rousing start. The tune features a sneaky Jimmy Johnson bass intro, Ray Russell’s twisted guitar stabs and Husband’s synth over his own pre-recorded drums. Besides having a great title, “If The Animals Had Guns Too” would seem to be a perfect number for Husband to bring into John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension band, of which he is one dimension.
The extraordinary Mike Stern plays skittering lead on the rhythmically charged “Rolling Sevens” and there’s a new wonderful take on McLaughlin’s “New Blues, Old Bruise,” without McLaughlin, but with saxophonist Sean Freeman instead. Husband’s playing, on drums, synth and keyboards, is a tour de force, while Freeman effectively captures the essence of McLaughlin’s intent.
Jan Hammer, a central figure to Husband, makes a rare appearance on “Fred 2011.” What a band that could be- Allan’s trio featuring Jimmy Johnson on bass, Husband on drums plus Jan Hammer on keyboards! Come on Jan!
One tune earlier, Husband pays tribute to Hammer with a beautifully realized version of Hammer’s tune “Rain” performed with guitarist Neal Taylor.
Husband’s solo piece, the atmospheric “Fuguie,” allows him to showcase his synthesizer bona fides. Over the years, I have tended to be more impressed with the drummer Gary Husband than the keyboardist Gary Husband. His brilliant solo piano albums in tribute to Allan Holdsworth (The Things I See) and John McLaughlin (A Meetings of Spirits) and his now longstanding keyboard stint with John McLaughlin have made me reconsider. He seems to be on the same remarkable footing on both skins and keys.
Husband’s “Sully” was written years ago, but updated a couple of tours back and then, per John McLaughlin’s suggestion, combined with McLaughlin’s epic Shakti piece “Get Down and Sruti.” Though, despite the intention, because of the electronics, I think most people will identify it with “Sruti’s” offspring, “Honky-Tonk Haven” from McLaughlin’s Music Spoken Here. A deeper groove is not possible.
Wayne Krantz and Alex Machacek do nothing but enhance their growing reputations as key leaders in whatever we are calling fusion music these days. Husband and Krantz, a guitarist with an entirely unique center of balance, have come to know and admire each other over the last few years. I am sure numerous conversations resulted in the short and compelling “East River Jam.” Machacek’s “Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Brothers” is a multifaceted presentation replete with beautiful jaggedness, sinuous lines and programmed effects. Its scope is an impressive landscape for Machacek and Husband to roam.
Jimmy Herring has been a welcome addition to the jazz-rock fold these last several years. His wonderful tone, which he carries in his jeans’ back pocket, and his natural musical acumen bring a charm to Husband’s short anthem “England Green.”
The album almost comes to an end with the appearance of Robin Trower, certainly not a fusion musician, and as far as I know, someone with little or no interest in the whole movement. The guitarist features on a section of Miles Davis “Yesternow” from Tribute to Jack Johnson in theoretical trio with Husband (drums and keyboards) and bassist Livingston Brown. (Trower also played another part of “Yesternow” on Volume 1. I wonder if it is Husband’s intention to have Trower help recreate the entire Jack Johnson album? By my estimate, at this pace, they could finish it by Dirty & Beautiful Volume 10.) Regardless, Trower, Husband and Livingstone Brown do Miles proud!
The connected “Epilogue” section, also from Jack Johnson, is an unexpected gift. Husband plays it alone on synth. It is different music from the original, but its undertow of sentiment still washes over us. In fact, I find myself sitting here in prolonged silence after song’s end, much in the same mood remembered from listening to Jack Johnson for the first time almost four decades ago. I was quite a bit younger then. I am quite a bit older now. Music can reunite the younger and older in us.
It says something of the high standards that have become expected of Gary Husband, that this review underplays his actual musical contributions to his own project. His obvious talent and creativity is there for everyone to enjoy, but it is his role as facilitator on this recording that is more important. Choosing and creating the right material is an art. There is a reason these magnificent musicians want to play with Gary Husband. After listening, you will understand why.
Just because you can fit 74 minutes of music on a CD, doesn’t mean you have to! Husband has wisely decided to present about 55 minutes. Perfect. There is no filler on Dirty & Beautiful Volume 2 ! It is all prime cut.
Walter Kolosky has written thousands of articles across all media. Best known for his work on the career of guitarist and composer John McLaughlin, in 2010 he gave a lecture about the artist’s music at Spain’s Cordoba Guitar Festival. Kolosky is the author of the acclaimed book about the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Power, Passion and Beauty. His latest work, Follow Your Heart, continues his study of McLaughlin’s music since 1969.