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Bill Orcutt, "Jump On It"

Jump On ItThis latest LP from San Francisco-based guitar visionary Bill Orcutt is a spiritual successor of sorts to 2013's A History of Every One, as that was apparently his last solo acoustic guitar album. The resemblance between the two albums largely ends there, however, as Jump On It is as different from the deconstructed standards of History as it is from last week's Chatham-esque guitar quartet performance for NPR. While I do enjoy Orcutt's Editions Mego solo era quite a bit, there is no denying that his artistry has evolved dramatically over the last decade and his recent work definitely connects with me on a deeper level. In more concrete terms, Orcutt's work no longer resembles the choppy, convulsive, and possessed-sounding fare of History, as he has since reined in his more fiery, passionate impulses enough to leave more room for passages of tender, simple beauty. In fact, Jump On It might be the farthest that the balance has swung towards the latter, as the characteristic Orcutt violence is a rare presence in the collection of quietly lovely and spontaneous-sounding guitar miniatures.


The album opens in appropriately gorgeous fashion, as the first minute of "What Do You Do With Memory" is devoted to a tender, halting and bittersweet arpeggio motif, though the piece then takes a detour before reprising that wonderful theme for the finale. The detour is admittedly brief, but so is the song itself, which illustrates a central feature of this album: these pieces generally feel like a series of spontaneous snapshots/3-minute vignettes rather than fully formed compositions that build into something more. That is not meant as a critique, but it does mean that Jump On It is something other than Orcutt's next major artistic statement. I am tempted to say that most of this album feels akin to a pleasant but loose improvisation around a campfire, but there are also some pieces that evoke an usually meditative Django Reinhardt playing alone in a late-night hotel room.

The connective tissue between those two poles is, of course, casual virtuosity and that is the most readily apparent trait of Jump On It: it can feel languorous, pensive, and searching at times, but there are plenty of fiery runs, viscerally snapping bends, and surges of passion to keep things compelling and remind me that this is still very much a Bill Orcutt album. To my ears, "The Ocean Will Find Its Shore" is the album's centerpiece, as its early sense of forward motion seamlessly dissipates into a tender reverie before more intense emotions bubble to the surface for a brief but intense crescendo. "In A Column Of Air" is another major highlight, however, as a lyrical minor key melody fitfully winds through scrabbling note flurries, quivering double-stops, emphatic chord sweeps, violent bends, and sundry other dynamic flourishes (and it all ends with a killer repeating riff to boot). Unsurprisingly, the remaining pieces are all enjoyable as well, albeit with the caveat that they generally feel more like sketches or miniatures than fresh, fully articulated masterpieces.

While I still heartily maintain that just about everything released on Orcutt's main Palilalia imprint is compelling and significant, I am quite curious to see how this album in particular is received. It feels like one of his less substantial recent releases to me (particularly in the wake of Music For Four Guitars), yet it also seems like it could reach an atypically wide audience, as Orcutt's characteristically soulful and singular playing is couched in a much more casual and intimate setting than the snarling, incendiary, and more overtly avant-garde fare that he is usually associated with.

Listen here.