Sporting the kind of abstract design that used to grace hard bop jazz LPs of the '50s, composer and guitar virtuoso Dustin Hofsess' first solo CD, Short Stories, certainly flirts with bop and abstraction. Yet, its touchstone decade is the '70s and the fierce, inspired jazz-rock spawned in the decade after the seismic jolt of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.
Charlotte-based Hofsess is perhaps best known for his liquid bass runs with psychedelia- and jazz-tinged instrumental trio Green Light. On Short Stories, Hofsess teams with percussionist and producer Jim Brock and, on three cuts, George Porter Jr., bassist for fabled New Orleans funksters The Meters. The resulting CD is an alchemical mix of control and chaos. It may seem more meticulous that Hofsess' work with Green Light, but the surface calm is deceptive.
Porter's subtly slinky bass anchors Short Stories' title cut, a mid-tempo groover that recalls '70s jazz fusion giants Return to Forever. Here, Hofsess' fretwork echoes RTF's Al DiMeola, but elsewhere his guitar shape-shifts, invoking Alan Holdsworth's legato phrasing on the prog rock-flavored "Lament for Camille" and John McLaughlin's spiraling riffs on the tropicalia-tinged "One Million Breaths." On the desert noir tone poem "Simple and True," the knotty and winding guitar line loops through Neil Young-style grit and rises to the searing thermals Jeff Beck spat out on Wired.
Master percussionist Jim Brock has an ear for the unusual. As a performer, he can play a hardwood floor and make it sound amazing. On Short Stories, his production is just as precise and inventive as his playing. Along with exotic world music touches like pan pipes, flute and skittering Latin beats, Brock weaves snippets of delay, backward masking and electronic washes into a cinematic and hypnotic soundscape.
"The Dogwood on the High Ridge" caps Hofsess' collection of "stories." Its plaintive, high plains twang unwinds from the pulse of Porter's bass like a hawk rising high above the desert floor. This soaring feeling brings a fitting close to a collection that builds on the foundation laid by jazz fusion titans like Beck and McLaughlin, then takes everything one step further.