Henry Kaiser has made records with many like-minded guitar experimentalists (Derek Bailey, Ray Russell, Nels Cline, Jim O’Rourke, Fred Frith), but Skip to the Solo, his first album with his longtime friend (and one-time student!) Alan Licht, a denizen of multiple underground New York music circles, is unlike any of them. Recorded in Santa Cruz with drummer Rick Walker and third guitarist Mikko Biffle, with revolving bass duties, it’s an instrumental rock album but one with no melodic themes, just molten, passionate soloing over simple progressions of 2 to 4 chords. The rhythms come from rock, Afropop, reggae, blues, jazz, Latin, you name it; it's not avant-garde per se but decidedly off-kilter and trans-idiomatic. The tracks have deliberately abrupt beginnings and endings, with brief 10-second "tags" sandwiched between them, so the album flows together as one big piece, à la The Faust Tapes (it’s also very much in the methodological lineage of Frank Zappa’s Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar). Even dedicated followers of both Kaiser and Licht’s patently unpredictable respective outputs will find themselves surprised by Skip.?
The album’s title and concept harks back to the experience of playing vinyl records and lifting the stylus ahead to the guitar solo.?Although they're a generation apart, in their younger days Henry and Alan would both do this and then jam along with the winding modal excursions over vamps like "Light My Fire," "Down By the River,” “Agharta Prelude,” “Alice in Blunderland,” “Dark Star,” "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” and many more. ?Alan was a fan of Henry's as a teenager in the 80s and took a workshop with him back then that was an eye-opener as far as listening to and playing free improvisation. They stayed in touch, played live together a few times, and had been talking about doing a record project for close to 20 years. Alan recalls, “During a 2015 duo gig at The Stone in NYC Henry turned to me and said ‘Play a couple of chords that I can fuzz solo over.’ A couple of days later it hit me--let's do a whole album of that!” This disc is it, one where the artists provide a notable service to the listener: they skip to the solos so that you don't have to!?
(NYC Jazz Record) Helmed by two of the most eclectic electric guitarists in creative music, Skip to the Solo explores a zone that led many a young rocker into jazz and beyond—modal excursions of Robby Krieger, Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts and Carlos Santana, as well as the often-maligned mid ‘70s electric period of Miles Davis (whose bands of that time included at least one guitarist, sometimes as many as three). Alan Licht is perhaps the slightly more rock-oriented of the two while Henry Kaiser has played in world music contexts as well as the Grateful Dead extended family. Both are well versed in the art(s) of improvisation, totally free and otherwise. “File and Rank” has a jangling folk-like intro then bursts into somewhat frenzied, arching soloing guaranteed to warm the cockles of the hearts of fans of Santana circa 1970-74 and the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. “Wong Dong Doodle” has a loping, lurching beat and playfully parodies tortured jams occurring when more than one guitarist is present on a blues concert stage—plenty of bent notes and angst-laden passages. “Ask Me About the Dorian Mode” is driven by a wistful melodic motif with sincere blues-derived soloing, ull of fervent yet understated passion and Jimi Hendrix-esque squalls as garnish. “Blast of Silence” displays fierce, eerie vocal-like snarls from these fret-meisters, sounding like Tuvan throat singing and rats digging beneath the floor. “More or Less Cowbell” is a swaggering midtempo funk workout with judicious use of distortion and wah-wah pedal. These six-stringers throw enough curve-balls to jolt even the most jaded listener to attention. Sweetly spacy, pensive modes are followed by fiery bursts; (relatively) straightahead rocking-out is subsumed by thorny dissonances, spirited dueling and inspired usage of effects pedals/devices. Devotees of electric guitar post-1967: this is for YOU. - Mark Keresman
(Disaster Amnesiac) Attention electric guitar fans: Public Eyesore, Henry Kaiser, and Alan Licht have prepared a recording that Disaster Amnesiac suspects will be seriously up your sonic alley. The stated template consists of a rhythm section laying down a somewhat simplified rhythmic/chordal progression, upon which Kaiser et al can dispense with everything that leads up to the solo space and just get to it. Again: fans of electric guitar playing will find tons of enjoyment on Skip To the Solo. The disc's 14 tracks are all formatted in a similar way that Zappa's Shut Up And Play Your Guitar discs were: brief spoken Dada leading directly into the quartet as they get down to the business of jamming. And oh, how they do this! The rhythm guitar/bass guitar section, made up of Mikko Biffle along with Licht and Kaiser, lay down chordal sketches while drummer Rick Walker plays in an understated style that is both simple enough not to interfere and complex enough to be compelling to the the soloist and listener. Skip's tunes all swing like crazy in this way. As Disaster Amnesiac has listened, the thought has occurred to me that this music's rhythmic richness makes it ideal for either deep, focused listening, or as more of a sonic backdrop for working or partying. It has that kind of broadness to it. Of course, the whole point of this set was to feature the electric guitar as a soloing instrument, and on that front it succeeds wildly. Standout solo action for me: the hard Sci-Fi chop and slice of File & Rank, the cutting Psychedelia of Variations On The Jerry Garcia Secret Chord Progression, the spacey Fripp-ey tones of Rendezvous In Space, and the shiny melody of Ask Me About the Dorian Mode. These are just Disaster Amnesiac's picks, though. Every track on this one has compelling tones that are tremolo'ed, reverb'ed, even talk boxed into the head bliss zone for guitar solo maniacs. The way this band gets down to the point of ripping out fun and fascinating instrumental music is beautiful. Again, if you're any kind of a fan of personal expression on electric guitar in the form of soloing, you'll truly want to seek out Skip To the Solo. Your ears will thank you for the effort. - Mark Pino
(Percosi Musicali) The psychedelic revolution of the mid-to-late 1960s was a time of seemingly open possibility for the arts. The given, whether understood as the accumulated weight of formal convention or as the aesthetic intention animating convention, was something to transcend; the given as itself transcendent could simply wait its turn. Nowhere was this revolution more apparent than in the rock music of the time, which flourished when freed of popular song’s relatively short running times as well as from the constraints of popular song structures themselves. Under the influences of modal and free jazz, Hindustani classical music and the contemporary classical avant-garde, rock musicians began to explore lengthy solo and collective improvisation as a way of opening up musical experience for listener and performer alike. For experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser (b. 1952), this musical revolution was an inspiration that would endure. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s, Kaiser was at the epicenter of long-form, improvised psychedelic rock. Playing the music he heard there during that formative period was one of the motivations that drove him to pick up the guitar. And one that seems never to have left him. He describes himself as an improvising guitarist, a psychedelic guitarist and an experimental guitarist—three complementary facets of his musical personality that are consistent with the music developed in the alembic of the Haight-Ashbury. To be sure, Kaiser’s immensely prolific output—he has appeared on more than 250 recordings of his own and others, and has provided music for many film and television soundtracks—is varied enough to evade easy characterization. He often draws on new techniques and technologies to alter the sounds of his guitar, and has created music that engages, crosses or simply ignores genres as desired. There may be an unusual concept behind the music; for example Everything Forever, a long post-Minimalist piece for solo guitar recorded live and without overdubs, was crafted for the explicit purpose of exhausting the 80-minute maximum running time of a compact disc. Underlying the diversity of Kaiser’s music is a commitment to improvisation; in a 2014 interview he suggested that 95% of what he does is improvised. Skip to the Solo, a collaboration with guitarist Alan Licht which has just been released on the independent American label Public Eyesore, explores improvisation in the form of the rock guitar solo. Skip to the Solo is a return to roots of sorts. The basic concept was to take two- to four-chord vamps and to solo over them—a frequent strategy honed and popularized by the San Francisco bands of the late 1960s. Kaiser took a standard rock quartet—Kaiser, Licht and Mikko Biffle alternating on guitars and basses, and Rick Walker on drums—and recorded a series of songs. All was then discarded, except for the solos. Like the Dean Benedetti tapes or Zappa’s Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar series—the latter an acknowledged precedent for Kaiser’s release—it’s a matter of reduction to essentials. For many of us, Kaiser included, listening to a song was listening for the solo. It was the instrumental heart of things where what was only nascent in the song structure—its melodic implications, the interpretive possibilities it might contain—was drawn out and explicated. (And no matter how free associative the words, it seemed that the music reached its most mind expansive moments during the solos. There, without being tied down to the unavoidable literalness of the lyrics, the music could follow its own direction.) The fourteen tracks on Skip to the Solo do just that and in the process make interesting again a form—the rock guitar solo—that has been nearly effaced after decades of use. The solos are virtuosic but their virtuosity is never an end in itself; the chord progressions are recognizably taken from standard rock repertoire, but the solos always surprise with off-center lines and pitches that stretch and sometimes break the basic harmonic frameworks. In their isolation, the solos here can stand as independent structures allowed to develop on their own; the minimal chord progressions provide just enough context to lend coherence and the necessary filament of recurrence. And with lyrics, choruses and bridges missing there’s nothing to listen to here except the sound of inventive minds at work. - Dan Barbiero
(Babysue) Get ready for some wildly creative and spontaneous guitar adventures. Skip To The Solo is a cool ride, full of intriguing guitar stuff that will melt the minds of even the most jaded listeners. Henry Kaiser and Alan Licht are both well known in the world of experimental progressive music. On this album, the two combine their talents...and the results are simultaneously peculiar and surprisingly musical. Backing the guitarists on this album are Rick Walker on drums and Mikko Biffle on guitar and bass, and both do a miraculous job of providing a solid foundation while Kaiser and Licht go off on some roads that are definitely less traveled. The title of the album refers to what many guitarists did when learning to play licks off of records...skipping over the versus and choruses to go straight to the guitar solo. We're particularly pleased that this release appears on the Public Eyesore label, as this seems to be a perfectly appropriate home for it. This will appeal to fans of Kaiser and Licht...as well as anyone else who has a genuine appreciation for the more inventive sounds that can be produced using the electric guitar. Fourteen challenging cuts here including "More or Less Cowbell," "File & Rank," "Wong Dong Doodle," and "Blast of Silence." Great stuff indeed. Recommended. TOP PICK. - Don Seven
(Aiding & Abetting) When you were young, did you lift the needle on the record and cut straight to the good part of the song? That question betrays both age and attitude, and I'll cop to both. Henry Kaiser and Alan Licht record together for the first time (with Mikko Biffle and Rick Walker), putting together a series of pieces that are little more than solos laid over basic tracks. Biffle, Kaiser and Lich swap duties on bass and guitars, and Walker provides the percussive connective tissue. Fans of Kaiser and Licht will know that while this album does vaguely fit in the realm of jazz, the sound coming from the speakers at any time could be anything. Storm squalls, gorgeous ruminations or just some persistent noodling. All without the annoyance of verse, chorus or bridge. While this is about what I expected, I did not anticipate the adrenaline rush these pieces provide. Kaiser is one of the great experimental guitarists, but on this set he uses his versatility to heighten the impact of his playing. Yeah, there's the requisite bleeps and blips, but largely this is an album about the emotional potential of electric guitar. I got lost. Seriously and truly. The lines are at times sinewy and at other times choppy. Sometimes the music pushed, and other times it pulled. Not unlike the total chopsocky first installment of Kill Bill, there is the danger of overkill. And perhaps Licht and Kaiser crossed the line. It they did, though, I crossed willingly as well. There are folks who ask me why I listen to "weird" music. First, it's not weird to me. But second, I get off on ideas. This album is overflowing with ideas, ideas that are played to within an inch of their lives. The rush is brutal, kinda like riding the pipeline (as if I've ever done that!). Drop the needle anywhere here and you will be more than satisfied. - Jon Worley