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Published: 2002/07/23
by Chris Bertolet

East Meets West – Steve Kimock Band

self-released

In more ways than one, "East Meets West" serves as a fitting title for
this double live shot from the Steve Kimock Band. Starting with the
obvious, the album captures performances in each earthly hemisphere:
disc one spotlights a gig at Bay Hall in Yokohama, Japan (November 25, 2001)
and
disc two features morsels from four nights at the Great American in San
Francisco (December 28 through December 31st, 2001). But in a metaphorical
sense, the album
also documents the latest step – albeit a rather tentative one – in
the journey of a man plainly in love with the longitudes of music.

It's easy to forget that Steve Kimock is a Pennsylvania boy, because his
music practically drips San Francisco. The Jerry Garcia comparisons
will always dog the guy, but that's not what I mean, exactly. To
understand what I do mean, try sitting in Russian Hill Park on a clear
night, and look down through the trees at North Beach. Dig the way the
city builders filled space; the way the twisting cypresses naturally
compliment the architecture of surrounding homes; the way everything is
precisely where it must be, as if it were years in the planning; the
inevitable, organic majesty of it all. Even in the early morning
silence, it's a mystically musical place, and there are probably
hundreds more like it in San Francisco. It's the kind of place Steve
Kimock's music can evoke.

Steve Kimock's music can also evoke debate, even among his staunchest
fans. His recent work undeniably marks a dramatic departure for the
guitarist, and whether that departure suggests maturity or wankery is
apparently open for question. With Zero and KVHW, his songwriting and
jamming approach favored complex heads and winding, melodic solos. In
short, it was music written and performed by a lead guitarist for a lead
guitar band. With SKB, Kimock's approach is more textural; he layers
splashing chords and subtle arpeggios atop one another in arcing,
raga-like structures that communicate mood before virtuosity.

If Kimock seems to be soloing less these days, perhaps that's because
he's content to let his bandmates share liberally in the shredding.
Drummer Rodney Holmes is an absurdly fleet and powerful drummer, like
Billy Cobham with an extra appendage, and for the most part he uses his
speed judiciously. Mitch Stein, who many had figured for a pure rhythm
guy, has found his voice as a lead player, and his angular,
stab-and-slash style serves as brisk counterpoint to Kimock's fluid,
bubbling tones. With that many studs in the stable, it's up to the bass
player to manage the stampede; Richard Hammond handles the duties
abroad, while jazz-fusion legend Alphonso Johnson (Weather Report, CBS
All-Stars, Jazz Is Dead, The Other Ones, etc.) takes care of business at
home (Johnson remains with the band).

WARNING: the Yokohama set is jam rock for jazz fans. It is absolutely,
positively 100% guaranteed to infuriate anyone who doesn't buy into the
basic premise. For those willing to swallow a super-sized helping of
indulgence, it offers certain rewards.

Opening cut "Ice Cream" sits there looking sweet for five minutes before
it begins to melt down, but it truly starts to taste sweet at the
eight-minute mark. That's when Kimock lands squarely in the middle of
what sounds like a late-70s "Caution" jam, his band pulsing away
urgently beneath his torrid, reaching leads. As the tension approaches
critical mass, Kimock toys with the theme again before he and Holmes
re-ignite for a space-shattering climax. "Long Form Part IV", another
highlight, gets right to the point with a virally contagious proto-disco
groove that recalls the Grateful Dead's blazing workouts on "Dancin' In
The Streets," circa '77.

But sometimes things don't quite gel, and "Long Form Part I" — a
stillborn 21-minute meditation — is a prime example. It contains
moments of compelling conversation, but not nearly enough to justify the
vastness of the journey. Similarly, the ebb-and-flow "Avalon" that
closes the set glides across countless peaks and troughs; unfortunately,
the greater idea feels fully realized at the thirteen-minute mark, and
the last six minutes feel anti-climactic and lacking in purpose.

Disc two wins points for brevity, at least comparatively, and is likely
to satisfy rock partisans more than the first. It opens unremarkably
with a meandering "High & Lonesome" that terminates in a competent,
compact version of "Africa." Unexpectedly, though, it's the Rodney
Holmes composition "Moon People" that draws first blood, and produces
the album's most daring and satisfying improv yet. The band's
collective fusion expertise shines through this jam, which is obviously
inspired by (and in many ways equal to) Mahavishnu Orchestra.
"Sabertooth," another Holmes joint, may well be the poster boy for what
some fans dislike about SKB; in fact, it could probably pass for a Disco
Biscuits tune. The tune uses a synth sample as the springboard for an
electro-ambient jam — a notion that Kimock's old guard would have
recently shrugged off as preposterous, if not sacrilegious. Of course,
the question is whether it works, and the answer is…well, sometimes.
Kimock and company always manage to keep things musical, but don't
always manage to keep things moving, and one does wonder why they'd
probe into such well-trodden territory.

SKB is at least smart enough to save the best for last. In this case,
it comes in the form of a monumental "Elmer's Revenge" that careens from
the psychedelic, apeshit abandon of '73 Dead to the punctuated crunch of
the Dregs with ease and grace. It's a deft choice to conclude the
album.

In the end, "East Meets West" makes a compelling case for neither side
in the debate. While music demands change, and while Steve Kimock's
music may have been starved for it, his new sound seems very much like a
work in progress — a suggestion of someplace new instead of someplace
new itself.

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