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Bruce Arnold—Guitar and Processed Guitar
Ratzo B. Harris—Acoustic Bass
Stomu Takeishi—Electric Bass
Tony Moreno and Kirk Driscoll—Drums and Percussion
“Jazz follows classical music and blues and rock follow jazz” says Bruce Arnold in discussing his music. On Blue Eleven all of these elements are present, from the classically-influenced and austere “Variations” to the howling eleven-bar blues of the title track.
- Did I Tell You
- Variation 1 [Solo Guitar]
- Variation 1
- Variation 2 [Solo Guitar]
- Variation 2
- Variation 3 [Solo Guitar]
- Variation 3
- Variation 4 [Solo Guitar]
- Variation 4
- Blue Eleven
- Day in the Badlands
Finding an original spin in a world full of compositional cliches is no easy task, but guitarist Bruce Arnold takes an impressive shot on Blue Eleven his debut recording as a leader. Using a sparse framework of “Variations” on a single theme, Arnold builds an expansive palette over which his musicians (bassists Stomu Takeishi, Ratzo Harris, drummers Tony Moreno, Kirk Driscoll) create an atmospheric otherworld. While his guitar with its burnished tone weaves detailes sketches, Arnold allows space for engrossing group improvisations, resulting in a controlled experiment of moody minimalist melody, thoughtful arranging and energetic musicianship. Alternating between acoustic guitar and trio-propelled pieces, Blue Eleven moves from ethereal, soaring sounds to deliberate square-jawed workouts. After the eight “Variations”, Blue Eleven changes pace. “Drops” is a bouyant Methenyesque splash of rhythm; “Blue Eleven” a frazzled blast of electro-bop.”
“An intriguing collection of evocative post-Frisell instrumental music for acoustic and electric guitars. At times heady and theoretical, reflecting Arnold’s obvious interest in 20th Century classical composition. Blue Eleven is nonetheless an ambitious outing that would appeal to an ECM-ish audience, especially fans of Ralph Towner, Bill Conners, and the aforementioned Bill Frisell. A couple of pieces here are catchy and downright radio accessible, notably the buoyant acoustic guitar – hadjini jam “Hobroken” and the Metheny-influenced “Drops.” Other pieces require more concentration, particularly the four 12-tone constructs for solo acoustic guitar. Fuzoid fans will dig the title track, a raucous swinging power trio session with electric bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Tony Moreno. On this lone track, Arnold puts aside his gentle acoustic aesthetic to rip with a vengeance on electric guitar. Both challenging and highly rewarding.”
“Guitarist Bruce Arnold states in the liner notes to Blue Eleven that his goal is to “achieve a balance between emotional expression and formal exploration.” It sounds as though he has achieved that balance on this CD which provides a richly rewarding listening experience as it presents Arnold’s guitar stylings in both solo and trio settings. None of the music on this CD strikes the listener as routine, yet none of the music seems as though it is trying to sound different for difference’s sake…This is a really strong CD that should win Bruce Arnold many fans once the word gets out.”
—The Sensible Sound
“In New York’s varied musical community there are many accomplished, often astounding musicians who never achieve national status. These players, classified loosely as jazz musicians, make their living traveling to Europe and Japan (given Manhattan’s bleak club circuit), or teaching privately or in colleges. Blue Eleven features the playing of such musicians. Working through a set of theme and variation, guitarist Bruce Arnold takes two trios through exploratory terrain. Rearranging the melody or simply changing the atmosphere, he finds a new niche in each of Blue Eleven’s thirteen slowly evolving performances. From lush and simmering (“Did I Tell You”) to oddly twisted (“Variation 4″) to breezily meditative (“Variation 2″), the music leaps and spins like a spider immersed in a private ballet. Kirk Driscoll plays on three tracks, creating both unusual conga-like patterns and textured swing. With no marked stylistic bent to weigh him down, Driscoll is a fresh, freely aimed drummer. Tony Moreno can summon the intensity of Elvin Jones and the mad roar of Buddy Rich, but here he largely plays it cool, responding to Arnold’s delicate picking and soaring solos. Moreno sounds best on the album’s closing tracks, which don’t adhere to the aforementioned “Variations.” On “Drops” his tensile rhythms mutate and shift, incorporating cowbell over 8th-note patterns or high-flying, intricate time maneuvering over a bass solo. The title track is free and forward, with Moreno dotting the rhythm with jagged snare drum blasts and DeJohnette-inspired interplay. Frank Zappa said, “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.” Blue Eleven maintains that aromatic tradition.”
—Modern Drummer Magazine
“Firstly I have to admit that guitars are not my favourite instrument. Sure, I can appreciate Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Julian Bream and mabye even Johnny Marr, but as far as jazz is concerned I have a problem…All this said makes it all the more surprising that I found Bruce Arnold’s new album ‘Blue Eleven’ very enjoyable. Playing both electric and acoustic instruments on his own compositions, Mr. Arnold has produced a thought-provoking and stimulating piece of work. Performing mostly within the context of a variety of small groups, the record ranges in style from sensitive 12-tone solo compositions like ‘Variation 1′ (track 3) to more unrestrained rock influenced compositions like ‘Drops’. In fact, the inventively titled ‘Variations 1- 4′ are all interpreted both on solo acoustic then on electric accompanied by bass and drums. This provides a fascinating insight into the musical mind of Bruce Arnold.
Considering his interest in 12-tone theory all the tunes are remarkably accessible. The opener ‘Hobroken’ sees Arnold accompanied by Todd Isler on Hadgini (a percussion instrument that sounds very similar to tablas). Arnold’s technique on steel stringed acoustic is crisp and the tonal colour of the hadgini complements his bright sounding guitar admirably. ‘Did I Tell You’ is equally thoughtful but sees Arnold in more intense mode playing electric. The album stays pleasingly restrained until track 11 ‘Drops’ and track 12 ‘Blue Eleven’ take the mood into a more abandoned jazz rock area…Bruce Arnold has made an extremely enjoyable record and I look forward to the opportunity of catching him live.”
—Absolute Jazz Online Magazine
“Arnold’s well-schooled guitar has academic precision and lyrical grace and clarity. This recording is a melange of his conceptions, including the title track, a unique 11 bar blues, some fusion material and the art song “Day in the Badlands” sung by the operatic Thomas Buckner. The central focus of the date are his four “Variations”, studied pieces played first in unaccompanied pristine form, then rhythmically enhanced in trio format with either Ratso Harris and Tony Moreno, or Stomu Takeishi and Kirk Driscoll, all making for close listening to the finely wrought compositions.”
“On the opening “Hobroken,” the listener will hear a lot of guitarist Ralph Towner’s influence, his cognitive, slower-paced style of writing and playing permeating the session. Arnold is obviously a well-schooled musician who couldn’t care less about the good old II-V-I, preferring instead much more difficult terrain, as has the Oregon guitarist.
Arnold bravely repeats four of the self-penned cuts, first playing them on solo guitar and then as ensemble pieces. With the possible exception of “Variation 1,” the solo pieces are not so sparse compared to their band versions as to cause the listener to scan them with remote in hand. By themselves, they sound like impressionistic classical guitar compositions; next to the fleshed-out interpretations, the skeletal versions serve as rough but interesting blueprints still lacking what will transform them into the fine Jazz pieces they become.
The outing owes a great deal to ECM’s Manfred Eicher and his unique style (the term Library Jazz seems to fit), which has proven over the last several decades to be the greatest current, non-stateside influence on Jazz. Arnold does well in continuing Eicher’s contribution to Jazz tradition.”