With two electric guitars, electric bass and drums, Jerry Granelli's V16 project might resemble a rock band more than your standard jazz band, but don't be fooled: this is a jazz band all the way. Actually, the way they operate, it's almost more of a jazz organism. Much like Henry Threadgill
's Zooid or Very Very Circus (and Ornette Coleman
and Albert Ayler
before that), this project is dedicated to group improvisation. Which is not to say it's free jazz: it's not. There are strong melodies to almost every tune, but it's never a situation where they play a head and trade solos. The melodies are a launching point for a group sound that ebbs and flows, touching back on the melodies at times but never slavishly bound to them. Christian Kögel and David Tronzo's rapport is incredible. There are times where it seems one guitar player will complete the other's thought. There are times where suddenly a unison-played melody appears almost out of nowhere only to resolve into two or three separate tangents. The way the players crawl inside the tunes and work as one is really amazing. It can be difficult to tell who is doing what (besides the drums, of course). Kögel and Tronzo play with both restraint and abandon (check out Tronzo's prepared guitar work on the DVD portion) but there are never any flashy solos. Members of the band may drop out for fairly lengthy stretches. "Udon Waltz" is just a duet between J. Anthony Granelli
and Christian Kögel. The cover of "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" is performed as a drum solo! But even in the other tunes, it isn't uncommon for players to drop out of the arrangement for a while. It's a truly egoless group dynamic; they play in service to the tunes not to show off.
The DVD is a great addition. It's not exactly the same program, and they include some tracks from the previous two albums. Obviously, the visual component makes it a lot easier to figure out who's doing what, but watching the group dynamic is a treat because not only can you see just how they communicate on-stage but how much fun they're having while playing. V16 has been around since 2003 (J. Anthony Granelli came in after the first album) and they've really developed their own personal "language." Group improvisation doesn't come any better and this sound is unique.