Wayne Krantz is a hard-edged stylist with a trailblazing technique and a penchant for complex musical narratives. He released his first album in 1990, has a coterie of admirers and has played guitar with the best – Steely Dan, the late Michael Brecker and Billy Cobham are the tip of a pretty hefty iceberg. Yet he remains something of a jazz trade secret, more underground force than headline act.
The new album, Howie 51, features multiple rhythm sections and Krantz’s drawling, Dylanesque vocals – the title track, a revisit of “Highway 51”, opened the first set – and though hardly mainstream, should raise his profile.
This gig, part of a promotional European tour, featured his on-going trio, and immediately asserted Krantz’s left-field credentials. Drummer Nate Wood, a latter-day Krantz regular, quietly tapped, rattled and retuned his snare and long-term bassist Tim Lefebvre added a woofing and wide-spaced deep-house riff. Krantz arrived almost unnoticed, his presence announced by the involuntary crack of a guitar lead and the hum of his Marshall amp.
Krantz is known for crunchy chords and flying fingers, mashed-up styles and intricate beats, and this gig did not disappoint. There was looped funk and dancehall raves, Nashville picks, stinging lead and dramatic changes primed by a hidden cue or perfunctory count. And the rhythm section has the same range and control as their leader. Lefebvre is a loose-stringed garage band bass guitarist one moment, a synthesised rave musician the next. Wood, looking understandably anxious throughout, delivered a constant stream of displaced accents, chopped-up beats and sudden silences, perfectly complementing Krantz’s fractured aesthetic.
Both sets delivered a web of mangled styles and multiple beats; they throbbed and pulsed and even featured a Radiohead cover. It was intense and complex stuff. And with lyrics lost in the mix, this was hardly softened by Krantz’s precisely inflected vocal drawl and polyrhythmic scat. The first set, with a greater sprinkling of soft-voiced lines, had a better balance, a low-key highlight and more extremes. And it was fabulous. The second set had more of Krantz letting rip and a drum solo finale. No let-up in the intensity, and the complexity remained intact, but the band’s extraordinary facility began to appear the norm.