Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss
Stanley Jordan :: 4.26.14 :: Scullers Jazz Club :: Cambridge, MA
Not a lot of instrumentalists can skip from Mozart to Katy Perry but Stanley Jordan is one
of them and he did just that at Scullers Jazz Club in Cambridge, MA on Saturday night. The
Bay Area native has never elicited the Guitar World acclaim awarded to players like Eddie
Van Halen and Rolling Stone left him off their Top 100 but all it takes is witnessing a
single performance from Jordan to be convinced that he’s one of the most incomprehensibly
brilliant guitarists alive. Seasoned guitarists can watch his hands move and immediately
find themselves picking their jaws up off the floor.
Given the setting, Jordan was more classically focused than he’s been when sitting in with
moe. or jamming with guys like Adam Deitch, John Popper and George Porter Jr. The bassist
and drummer in his trio were both professors at the nearby Berklee College of Music. In
fact, the drummer that evening, Kenwood Dennard, was a teacher to both Deitch and
Dumpstaphunk drummer Nikki Glaspie.
While most guitarists finger the frets with their left hand and strum the strings with
their right, Jordan uses a widely different method. The neck of his custom guitar is set
so that the strings are exceptionally close to the frets and the pickups are raised to be
closer to the strings. Rather than strum or pluck the strings, both hands tap the fret
board, one hand doing leads while the other does rhythm. While anyone with a Metallica
record knows that tapping isn’t anything new, most guitarists use it for flashy solos.
When Jordan does it, he’s effectively utilizing the fret board of his guitar as a piano.
In case the piano comparison wasn’t literal enough for you, after a few compositions, he
sat down at a grand piano that he played with one hand, while tapping on his guitar with
another. Up until that point, most of the songs, while incorporating improvisation,
revolved around familiar compositions. A performance of “Return Expedition” changed that.
The tune had a lot more space between notes, and while all three performers kept in close
communication with one another, it felt like they were each articulating their own
interpretation of the musical conversation independent of the other two.
His encore of “Stairway To Heaven” had a gentle, classical tone from the start but towards
the end, dove into the grittiest end of the spectrum he’d hit all night. After the show,
when asked about the eclecticism in his setlist, Jordan commented: “Music is music,
regardless of the style, for me it’s more about the feeling and passion and I try and
bring love to music and bring some healing energy. The very variety is a part of what we
do. All of the styles kind of run together into one continuous flow and hopefully when you
get what we’re trying to do, the style of the song doesn’t matter. It’s the same energy.”
The energy at a Stanley Jordan concert isn’t the type that the audience and performers
share. There’s no tour-long chess match or inflatable hamster ball. It wasn’t a very
participatory show and some of that might have had to do with the audience. That said,
when you’re watching Jordan’s hands move, the idea of engaging is absurd. You drop your
jaw and watch his hands move. Plain and simple.
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