July 15, 2005
Great guitar playing may not normally be readily associated with Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but the three-pronged guitar monster that covered the three jazz and soul legends’ songs exclusively was anything but normal. T.J. Kirk released two highly acclaimed, but currently out of print, fusion records on Warner Brothers in the mid-’90s. Talking Only Makes It Worse captures the instrumental ensemble live in 1997, just before they split up.
Amazingly covering both involved bass lines and watery-sounding guitar parts simultaneously on his custom instrument, 8-string innovator Charlie Hunter’s role and sound is similar to that of a soul jazz organist such as Jimmy Smith, which leaves groove guru Will Bernard and avant-garde leaning John Schott free to experiment. Both alternate between traditional jazz tones and approaches, and more progressive ones that are sometimes overdriven or tinged with a range of digital-sounding effects. A keen ear will differentiate between Bernard’s whammy-bar equipped Strat-style solidbody sound in the left speaker, and Schott’s semi-hollow body Gibson ES-335 on the right throughout. T.J. Kirk’s multiple guitar lines intertwine and unravel unpredictably like clever fiction. It’s a jazzy affair that gets downright wacky at times, but the proliferation of funky beats and freaky sounds ensure that you don’t have to be a jazz fan to dig this adventurous guitar tapestry. Ropeadope. —Jimmy Leslie