When President Thomas Jefferson passed over 15 million big ones to the French government in return for the vast Louisiana Territory in 1803, he probably did not have swinging guitarists on his mind. But a little over 200 years later, the trio that makes up New West -- Brady Cohan, Perry Smith and John Storie -- have launched their own Lewis and Clark Expedition into the unknown realms of musical possibilities. (I'll let the three of them Rochambeau over who is Sacagawea in this scenario).
First there is the unorthodox instrumentation; multiple guitar groups are almost unheard of outside of the classical world. Then there is the choice of material. Yes, this group of jazz guitarists owes a great deal to their predecessors within the idiom, but listen only a few seconds into their new album, Sleeping Lady, and you'll find that the music is as much James Taylor and Radiohead as it is Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny.
Sleeping Lady is an all-acoustic venture, signaling a trajectory for the group that leads away from harmonized bebop heads and towards the full arrangements of folk and jazz-infused chamber music that have become the group's bread and butter. Whether it's the driving 7/4 groove of "Crooked Railroad," which conjures images of a rugged trip along the expanses of the Transcontinental Railroad, or the hushed intimacy of "Never Had A Chance," where the trio is joined by vocalist Gretchen Parlatto, it is very clear that this group is charting a new direction in ensemble music.
While the music casts New West as explorers on the edge of the musical frontier (alright, I might be taking this metaphor too far), their debut at the legendary Yoshi's jazz club in Oakland's Jack London Square is, in essence, a homecoming. Two of the three members, Perry Smith and Brady Cohan, are Bay Area natives. Not to mention that all of the guitars featured on their new album were built by famed Bay Area luthier Jeff Traugott, a staple of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company for many years. While the group formed and came into its own in Los Angeles (all three members are graduates of USC's prestigious guitar program), this performance at Yoshi's, in many ways, represents the group coming full circle as established artists at a classic venue.
New West will be performing at Yoshi's on Monday, July 13, 2009. For tickets and information, visit yoshis.com.