(Prescott Recordings)


The best jazz expresses itself in more ways than words ever could. The best jazz doesn’t even need melodic intent or repetitious chord structures. The best jazz speaks a language all its own, though it’s easy to understand. Just ask guitarist Ross Hammond, who after several solo releases, hits his stride with the 2013 CD release of Cathedrals by The Ross Hammond Quartet. Ross has picked some truly exceptional players for Cathedrals, including Vinny Golia (sax, flute), Alex Cline (drums, percussion) and Steuart Liebig (bass). A far as a jazz improviser, Hammond is one of the best of the 21st century. His spontaneous, driving nature, just levels the playing field. Even though Hammond’s forte is instrumental jazz improv, there’s also an air of the progressive here, perhaps due to the contrapuntal accuracy of the players who seem to feed off each other in a highly combustible mix and match of sounds. The CD, recorded in Los Angeles in February 2013 is really well recorded and you can hear each instrument quite clearly thanks in part to the excellent mixing work of long time Hammond sound man, Wayne Peet. Upon entering Ross Hammond’s cathedral of jazz, you’ll be in for a truly inspirational musical experience. presents an interview with

mwe3: Is Cathedrals somewhat of a return to form for the Ross Hammond Quartet? Would you say that Cathedrals is an evolution of the sound that you attained with these same players on your 2011 Adored CD? What was it like recording again with Vinny Golia, Steuart Liebig and Alex Cline again? How has the quartet sound changed or advanced on Cathedrals and what was your recording mission with these great players this time around?

ROSS HAMMOND: Yes, this was definitely a follow up to Adored (2012). I felt like we had made a statement with the first quartet record and wanted to quickly follow up with another release. I had written a bunch of new songs with the quartet in mind, and we recorded everything in an afternoon back in February at Wayne Peet's studio in Los Angeles. I feel like the band has a specific sound. Like furious beauty, and after the Adored material live it was easy to put together another batch of music for the group.

mwe3: What was your guitar setup like for the Cathedrals CD? How about the sonic effects that you are implementing on the CD, including pedals, reverb and what amps are you using on the CD? Was there any acoustic guitar work on Cathedrals? Overall your guitar CD sound is very clean and clear this time. What’s new in your guitar universe in 2013?

ROSS HAMMOND: Well, I picked up an old National Debonaire Archtop back in November, and it's been my main guitar since then. It's a really interesting guitar. There's no truss rod and it's really light. It's only about 15 1/2 inches wide at the lower bout, and it's really comfortable to play. The guitar gets a lot of wonderful overtones when you play it loud, and the embedded pickup is a single coil. I had never heard of this guitar before but I saw one sitting in Retro Fret in Brooklyn when I was back on tour. I played it and knew I wanted to get one. Unfortunately I had no money at the time, but when I got the funds together I called them about the guitar. They had sold it, but I found one online that I bought sight unseen. It's amazing. (lol) That was the guitar on the whole record. I also played it on singer/songwriter Amy Reed's record earlier this year.

As for the amps, I'm pretty loyal to the ZT amp still. I've used it for pretty much every record since my Ambience, Antiquite and Other Love Songs CD in 2011. Cathedrals was essentially my National arch top going straight into the ZT Lunchbox. Occasionally I used a Digitech Hardwire delay for the reverse delay sounds, and if it got crazy I used the ZVex Distortron. Other than that it was straight into the amp.

For the acoustic track on the record I used my late 1970’s Yamaha 12 string. It's a great guitar. It has a really nice, aged tone and it doesn't play too easy. I find that a lot of guitars that play too easily lack tone and resonance, especially acoustics. This one is really balanced well. Harrison Phipps, who is a great luthier in Davis, California reset the neck and made it pristine. But yeah, the old Yamaha guitars are kind of a secret among some players. They're great guitars.

mwe3: What was your approach in the studio for Cathedrals? Were there overdubs or sonic sweetening during and after the recordings? Were there various takes of certain tracks or was the album done in one take? What were the rehearsals for Cathedrals like and how do you feel about recording alternate or remix versions of your music?

ROSS HAMMOND: The session was really like a live gig. We didn't do any overdubs or anything like that. We adjust set up and played. Wayne Peet is a really great engineer and pianist/organist in LA, and he understands this music. So he was ready for us. I think we tracked the whole thing in about 6 hours. Wayne mixed it, added a little compression and reverb and we were done. I really like that approach. It's great to record knowing that the engineer knows the music and the sounds you're going for.

mwe3: Why did you call your new album Cathedrals? Perhaps there’s a more introspective tone to the music this time compared to say your one of your earlier works Ambience, Antiquite And Other Love Songs, which was more existential and electronic based. Can you compare your albums and how has your sound and vision changed and improved over the past decade?

ROSS HAMMOND: Well, the song Cathedrals is 3 melodies that are supposed to be played loosely and interchangeably. During the improvisation, the melodies are supposed to be quoted and developed, etc. The inspiration for the song is the bells of the cathedral in our neighborhood. The bells play independently of each other, but collectively make a very beautiful sound. That was the inspiration and I thought that would be a good theme for the whole record.

As for the Ambience record, it was approached the same way in the writing process. But, I wanted to do a solo record that utilized a lot of electronics and solo "sonic world building." Lately, I'm not so much into the electronic approach. There are a lot of guitarists that do that, and I've really just been playing straight into my amp for the past year or so. I wanted to get back into playing guitar. Pedals and stuff are cool, but the music isn't in the pedals. The music is in us, and I feel a little more connected to the music I'm trying to make when it's just hands and strings. That could, and probably will change at some point but for now I'm enjoying doing the stripped down approach.

mwe3: What’s the music scene like for your music in the Sacramento area and can you compare the vibes you get playing in California to New York City and other places you’ve traveled? How does the ambiance of where you play affect what you play? Are you planning to take your sound to other countries in the future?

ROSS HAMMOND: Sacramento is great. We've really built a nice scene for jazz and creative music here. It's a great location in terms of the proximity to other music communities, so now we're on the map as a place for bands to stop while on tour, etc. I like being based here. I'm quite busy these days. I have 4 or 5 gigs a week, and I'm still teaching lessons and classes. That along with being a Dad means I rest easily at night time.

That being said, while one's hometown is great it still means you have get out and take your music to other places. Touring is still as important as ever, but an artist shouldn't really plan on touring to an area unless they're planning on going back there. But, all scenes are the same. All cities are the same. There is never enough money for the arts, there are challenges in getting press and challenges getting crowds, but the music lives on. The DIY approach is really the one that lasts, so I've always told younger musicians to do it yourself. Book your tours, put out your own records, etc. If you wait for someone else to do it you'll be waiting a long time.

I would like to do some international tours but that's a little tricky right now. My daughter is young and I don't like being away for a long period of time. I'm happy now doing the 5 days in one place, 3 days in another, etc.

mwe3: How would you compare recording purely improvised music to music with defined melodies? Coltrane was perhaps the master of that genre where you could take a song and just completely improvise off a single melody line or in other cases when ‘Trane would create a completely unique sonic spectrum, something otherworldly! How about mixing electronic music into your guitar sound and jazz fusion sound? How does that fit into your sonic equation?

ROSS HAMMOND: Well, to me improvising is reacting. So if we're purely improvising with no themes then it's all about listening and responding to who I'm playing with. It's a lot of push-pull in terms of putting out ideas and responding to them. It's probably best in that situation to not think and to just listen. Once you start thinking it spells trouble.

If we're improvising over a form or a melody or a chords structure or something like that the same approach applies, it's just you have a starting point. In the end I feel like the important thing is for the band to be together. I think that's true even if you're playing jazz standards. It's more important for the band to be together and in a similar musical space than to play the form right, for example. At least to me….

I've played with quite a few electronic artists (Wes Steed, Ruben Reveles, Daryl Shawn, etc) and the listening rule still applies. That's the most import rule in music! Playing with electronic artists is fun and liberating. A lot of times you're in sonic space that's not necessarily about rhythm or pitch, but just about sound. So, as an improviser you have to adapt.

mwe3: In addition to the Ross Hammond Quartet, have you done any other recent projects this past year? I remember you were talking about recording a film or documentary soundtrack. I would think your music, that other side of your music would work quite well for some film work. Who are your favorite film soundtracks and soundtrack composers?

ROSS HAMMOND: I did a soundtrack to a documentary about the Sacramento Cemetery's Rose Garden last year. That was a lot of fun. The music for that is available on my bandcamp site ( I'd love to do some more film work at some point. A lot of that is just when opportunities arise making the most of them.

Aside from the quartet the project I'm currently working on is a quintet suite based on 3 of artist Kara Walker's silhouettes. It's a long-form suite written for 5 instruments with a lot of sections of improvising, etc. I'll be joined by saxophonists Vinny Golia and Catherine Sikora, bassist Shawn Hale and drummer Dax Compise. We'll debut that in Sacramento in October. I'm going to try to do a vinyl release if the recording comes out good. We'll see...

mwe3: What are your upcoming plans as far as writing, recording, performing, traveling, producing new music in 2013 and 2014? Are there some projects you’re looking forward and are there artists you’d like to record with in the future?

ROSS HAMMOND: Aside from the Kara Walker Suite, I'll be traveling to the East Coast again in the Fall to play a few dates in New York and Philadelphia. I have some gigs in California with Amy Reed, Jocelyn Medina, Oliver Lake, Dwight Trible and a few others. Vinny Golia and I were talking about trying to record some acoustic duets later this summer. Also I have a new trio with drummer Vanessa Cruz (Revival Trio) and Kerry Kashiwagi. I just want to stay busy while being a good Dad and husband. That's all I want, really.

Thanks to Ross Hammond @
{picture credits top to bottom, Pic 1 - Downtown Music Gallery, Pic 2 - Zoart photography, Pic 3 - Louise Mitchell and Pic 4 - George Thompson}


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