Various Artists
The New Universe Music Festival 2010
Abstract Logix

Last November, in a theater in North Carolina, some of the greatest jazz/rock musicians alive came together for the inaugural New Universe Music Festival. These players all happen to be signed to the Abstract Logix label, but this festival wasn’t merely a showcase for their sponsor— it’s more like a look at the history of this genre and where it’s headed. The album opens up with one of the young lions on the bill, Alex Machacek— whose trio includes Neal Fountain on bass and Jeff “Apt. Q258” Sipe on drums—combining his angular, jarring melodies with dissonant chords on “Strafe.”

Closing out the first disc is Widespread Panic’s lead axe-slinger Jimmy Herring. “Rainbow” kicks off Herring’s set with keyboardist Matt Slocum playing a pensive piano intro before jumping into an odd-time riff that sets up Herring’s absolutely
burningsolo. Here, Herring mixes the whammy-bar tricks of Jeff Beck with the harmonic vocabulary of Coltrane. On the second disc, Wayne Krantz appears with his trio—bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Cliff Almond—and blurs the line between composition and improvisation with “Why,” a frenetic tune that combines chord stabs with Krantz’s signature intervallic soloing. Herring later returns as part of Lenny White’s group to tear through the odd-time madness of Joe Henderson’s “Gazelle” with guitarist Tom Guarna, and the two guitarists come off like a futuristic-sounding Allman Brothers.

The final guitarist on the album is the Mahavishnu himself, John McLaughlin. His band, the Fourth Dimension, is a tight and nimble unit that can change directions at will as if all the members are a single organism. McLaughlin’s amp-less tone sings its way through the opener, “Recovery,” and bassist Etienne Mbappé shows no shortage of chops on his turn in the spotlight. Joining the group for some extra rhythmic propulsion is tabla master Zakir Hussain. On the album closer, “Mother Tongues,” Hussain and McLaughlin bring back some of that Shakti mojo with a 21-minute firestorm that lets everyone in the band stretch out. It will take most listeners some time to work through both discs, but the chance to hear the evolution of jazz/rock guitar in a live setting is well worth the investment.