Karl Latham: Living Standards – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

Karl Latham: Living Standards – Jazz Guitar Life CD Review

If you’re aware of  powerhouse Jazz Drummer Karl Latham and wondering why he’s on Jazz Guitar Life? Well it’s simple. On Karl’s latest CD Living Standards, the guitar player featured is none other than the inimitable Vic Juris. Need I say more? Exactly! 🙂

Similar in nature to Herbie Hancock’s The New Standard, Latham’s CD showcases iconic pop/rock tunes – standards if you will in their respective genres – re-interpreted through the Jazz lens’ of Drummer Latham, Bassist Mark Egan of Pat Metheny and Elements fame and of course, Jazz Guitarist Vic Juris. A dynamic group of players who seemingly have one foot in the Jazz World and one foot in the Rock/Pop World. It is because of this that the tunes re-invented still retain their original oomph but with a much more sophisticated harmonic palette offered to the more refined listener.

Case in point is Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”. This version finds Vic on acoustic steel string gently transforming the familiar Grace Slick melody into a hauntingly beautiful finger-picked out-pouring of notes alongside Egan’s soulful – almost crying – fretless slides. This same treatment can also be found on Pink Floyd’s “Us And Them” where Vic – cascading artificial harmonics and all – presents the melody in a most moody fashion. Egan’s fretless “skating” also helps to create a melancholy vibe along with Latham’s minimalist manoeuvres on the traps. A unique take which I was not expecting. In fact there are many such interpretations on this CD that I wasn’t expecting.

For example, the group’s frenetic take on The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” reminded me of something that Bill Frisell would do. This tune definitely showcases Vic’s inventive improvisations as he dons the electric, slaps on some overdrive, and, when the time comes, wails in a Jazz/Rock fusion approach pulling out all the stops. He also delivers the same flat-out energy and intensity to – once again – The Beatles’ “Tax Man”. Of course, Latham’s muscular drumming and Egan’s dynamic bass lines add plenty of fuel to Vic’s fire. Egan also gets plenty of room to show off his chops in a most notable manner.

The Neil Young tune “Cinnamon Girl” also brings out the best in all concerned with Vic and Egan delivering superb solos as only they can. Latham also gets to shine throughout the outro as Vic and Egan play the opening riff in an ostinato fashion. These guys can really…rock!

And speaking of which, their treatment of the Blind Faith classic “Had To Cry Today” does exactly that…it rocks! Of course they personalize it with their distinctive voices allowing Vic to channel his inner Pat Martino through some overdriven guitar sounds that would make Clapton’s guitar gently weep! A great rendition as are their versions of “Low Rider” and the funkified “It’s Your Thing”.

Contrasting the rock and funk is another Beatles’ tune “Tomorrow Never Knows” and The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” which take a bit of an interpretive left turn as they venture down exploratory paths bordering on Free playing. Definitely an interesting musical perspective and one that I think both John and Jim would appreciate…especially in their more mind altered states! 🙂

This brings me to the last cut on the CD, Cream’s “White Room”. Once again Vic takes out the acoustic steel string to re-envision the song his way. This sonic divergence and the way Vic phrases his lines, gives the tune a somewhat bluegrass feel before he delves into the improvisational passages where he bridges fleet fingered pentatonic lines with more advanced harmonic concepts. Both Egan and Latham give Vic plenty of room as they hold down the musical fort. A great tune to end the CD on!

If you’re looking to hear some iconic rock tunes re-imagined, or you’re a fan of Vic or Mark or Karl individually or as a group, then I think this CD definitely needs to be checked out. After all each of those players ARE Living Standards and should be heard as well as seen!