Jazz lands

The Java Lounge on 16th Street, between X Street and Broadway, doesn’t look like a place that features improv jazz. In fact, it looks more like your friend’s basement than either a coffeehouse or a music venue. But for jazz guitarist Ross Hammond, who relocated his weekly Prescott Showcase there last Thursday, it has the sort of relaxed, hangout vibe he wants.

“Ten years ago it seemed like there was more camaraderie between musicians. It’s not like that anymore,” said Hammond as he and tabla player Alex Jenkins, his partner in the Ni Project, set up before the show. “There’s not really a place where you can go and hone your craft and hang out. There definitely needs to be more places like that.”

And that’s the idea behind the series. As Hammond and Jenkins readied themselves for their set, they drifted in and out of casual conversations with friends and acquaintances who meandered up to the tiny “stage”—really just a corner next to the front door—to say hello before getting something to drink and settling in. With a nominal cover charge of $5, some comfy chairs to lounge in and a decent cuppa joe, the show was a bargain and great way to spend a Thursday night.

Hammond and Jenkins exhibited confidence and craft as they jammed through 40 minutes of India-themed guitar and tabla improv, with a pre-recorded tamboura droning in the background as accompaniment. Hammond’s use of guitar effects like layered harmonies, sounds turned backward, and distorted individual notes—just to name a few tricks—along with Jenkins’ dexterous percussion made it easy to forget there were only two musicians on stage.

After a short break, a duo featuring Sameer Gupta on percussion and David Boyce on saxophone and electronics took the stage. Gupta’s drum kit looked imposing next to Boyce’s tenor sax and humble electronics rig. But as they began, with a three-note bass line programmed by Boyce as anchor, it became clear that the duo was not only going to meld together well, they also were going to blow the roof off the joint.

Gupta played the occasional steady beat and many manic fills as a counterpoint to Boyce’s imaginative solos. Like Hammond, Boyce also used effects to layer his parts, sometimes creating a texture so dense it threatened an impending mush. But he always recovered, either by playing high notes over the top of the cacophony or stripping the layers back bit by bit until the original part shone through. It was a big and impressive sound for such an intimate space.

Hammond has Duntch and Shotput Trio scheduled to perform on January 11 and Good for Cows on January 18. The shows begin at 8 p.m. and more information is available at www.rosshammond.com. If last Thursday’s show was any indication of what’s in store, the Prescott Showcase will be worth catching every week.