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Over the course of his 30 years on the New York scene, guitarist Wayne Krantz distinguished himself — particularly among the hordes of admiring guitar students from the Berklee College of Music who would pack his weekly shows at the 55 Bar in the heart of Greenwich Village — as a six-string demigod with a penchant for intricate, taut lines, searing solos, a signature clean tone and an unerring rhythmic sensibility.
Bursting onto the scene in the late ‘80s with Leni Stern and Michael Formanek, Krantz debuted as a leader with 1990’s Signals, a superb fusion date which found him unleashing his considerable chops in the company of keyboardist Jim Beard, bassist Anthony Jackson and super drummer Dennis Chambers. He followed in 1993 with the equally impressive and in some ways more finely-tuned outing Long To Be Loose, which showcased his remarkable agility and mastery of polyphony in a pared-down trio setting with bassist Lincoln Goines and drummer Zach Danziger. That same trio recorded the more rough-edged though no less interactive 2 Drink Minimum, a 1995 live release capturing their combustible chemistry at the 55 Bar.
As Krantz’s rep spread, he got tapped for sideman roles with Billy Cobham, Michael Brecker, Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Chris Potter. 2009’s visceral and adventurous Krantz Carlock Lefebvre found him exploring an indelible group mindset with redoubtable drummer Keith Carlock and bassist Tim Lefebvre in a slashing funk-rock-fusion setting. Never one to repeat himself, Krantz took a radical left turn on 2012’s Howie 61, which featured his Dylan-meets-Lou Reed vocals and incisive guitar chops in a much larger cast of musicians. He followed with 2014’s audacious and rock-heavy Good Piranha-Bad Piranha, which had him reinventing tunes by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Ice Cube and MC Hammer with two separate trios.
The restlessly creative Krantz throws more curveballs for the listener on his latest Abstract Logix outing, Write Out Your Head, his first decidedly non-guitaristic offering that is bristling with a torrential downpour of against-the-grain musical ideas, all flawlessly executed in the company of bassists Will Lee, Pino Palladino, Orlando Le Fleming, Tim Lefebvre and special guest saxophonist Chris Potter. I caught up with Krantz after he returned home to NYC from a European tour with his powerhouse trio.
Write Out Your Head is far more through-composed and less guitaristic than the stuff you've recorded before. What was the inspiration for this different direction? And is there any significance to the album title?
Like all the records, it’s a shift from the one before. That’s what warrants making a new record for me, having an unexplored angle to work with. This time I didn’t rely on the guitar at all to write the stuff. Everything was conceived in Sibelius, the notation software. No keyboard; I typed the notes in. I guess I wanted to see if I could do it, see what music it led to, whether I’d like it enough to want to record it. The title seemed fitting, given the process. Plus, it’s kind of funny, right?
You are credited as playing guitar and "Rhodes sequences." Was this a layered production in the studio?
Totally. Nobody played with anyone else live, we all played individually to the sequence.
Did you utilize some music software program to create this music, or were you doing the Rhodes comping in real time?
The Rhodes is what remains of the original Sibelius sequence. I never touched an actual keyboard; I couldn’t have played what I wrote. Ultimately, it felt cool to have the software be part of the mix that way.
Tunes like "Kulturny," "High 70s," "Ride" and the title track have a very well-crafted quality -- intricate unisons, taut contrapuntal lines, motivic development. They have that through-composed feel that reminds me of Wayne Shorter's Atlantis or Joy Ryder.
My awareness of Wayne Shorter is pretty limited to the stuff with Miles and Weather Report. I wouldn’t think to look outside myself for suggestions about what to play or record; seems kind of self-defeating. If anything I do reminds me too much of someone else, I usually get rid of it.
Did Chris Potter record his parts to existing tracks?
He played to the same sequence everyone did. No drums, just a click and the Rhodes and bass sequence. Drums were recorded last! It’s a testament to everyone’s skill they were able to do that. That said, I’ll probably never do it like that again — lots of editing required to get it sounding like an integrated ensemble.
[caption id="attachment_27520" align="alignleft" width="1024"] Chris Potter (Photo: Courtesy North Sea Jazz Festival)[/caption]
That's some very sick guitar work on "Xandea," very Hendrix-inspired. Was his "EXP" and "Machine Gun" and other Jimi anthems at all an influence for where you're going there on that tune?
I like extreme effects and had been trying to come up with something personal with fuzz and whammy for years. A while ago I finally found a way in. Hendrix has been a big inspiration in general and hopefully what I’m doing doesn’t sound too derivative. If it starts feeling that way, I’ll change it.
The way some of this music is meticulously pieced together, particularly on the closing tune “Magic 44,” reminds me in some ways of Zappa's Jazz From Hell, which was essentially a one-man show created by him on the Synclavier. Did you take note of that album when it came out in 1986?
I dig Frank’s title but never heard the album. I just fed on the sound of the sequences to build the vibe. The song order on the album is exactly the order they were written in. By the time I got to “Magic 44” I knew I needed something different to wrap it up. That Rhodes loop led to the rest of it.
Any other thoughts about exploring this very different musical approach on Write Out Your Head? It is far from your typical 'guitar hero' type recording.
I ain’t a guitar hero; just a player. But there are additional angles I feel almost obligated to explore, as long as it works on a professional level. My commercial success is modest, so I have almost complete freedom to do that. It’s an upside.