There is a long list of reasons those ephemeral troikas known as “supergroups” are becoming rare. But two main causes is that players often hate them and they usually produce lousy music.
Anyone familiar with Wayne Krantz’s three decade career (Berklee College of Music grad, sideman to the likes of Donald Fagan and Randy Brecker, a taciturn and artistically feral solo jazz/fusion/avant artist) might therefore find it surprising that the guitarist would be paired up with two other guitarists, Jimmy Herring and Michael Landau, in something that looks an awful lot like … one of those things.
But Krantz says it works.
“It’s a blast,” he says. “These guys are the nicest possible people, who all play great. It’s kind of an accident, really, because the whole thing was the label’s idea and most of the time label ideas aren’t very good. It’s just this situation was fortuitous, because we all get along and respect each other, and stay out of each other’s way.”
Krantz has been a project leader or a sideman for the duration of his 30-year career, which includes a lengthy and recently concluded weekly residency at 55 Bar in Greenwich Village. The Ringers is a new sensation.
“It’s true,” he agrees. “This is kind of a different animal because it’s collaborative, which I usually don’t do. I mean, when I write it’s just me, and when I’m doing the sideman thing, it’s just somebody else. This is different because we have four or sometimes five of us kind of contributing music to the thing, and direction and so forth. And we’re all quite different. So yeah, I’ve never done anything quite like this.”
From a distance, Krantz’ career and playing may appear to hold more in common with the icy-blues stylist and session all-star Landau than Herring’s — Landau’s resume includes sideman gigs with Miles Davis, BB King, Ray Charles and Joni Mitchell, and has taken his own band Renegade Creation (with Ringers drummer Gary Novak) out with guitarist Robben Ford, another blues heavyweight with a Miles stint in his own past. Herring, of course, is well known to the jam crowd as current lead guitarist for Widespread Panic, with a sprinkling of jam/fusion-esque gigs in his own past: Aquarium Rescue Unit, Phil and Friends and Jazz Is Dead.
But Krantz draws his comparisons a bit more finely.
“In a way, I can understand why you’d say that,” he observes, “and I truth be told, Mike and I are pretty think it’s a fair thing to say. Although radically different. At no point does it feel like Mike and I have some kind of common language that Jimmy doesn’t have.
“It’s really kind of a three-headed monster in that way, which is really cool because we all truly do all bring something particular to the thing, and we’re lucky enough to enjoy what the others bring.”
The band — which also features Etienne Mbappe, longtime bassist for the Zawinul Syndicate and current bass seat for John McLaughlin’s band — hasn’t yet spent time in the studio, but there are a number of YouTube videos out of the quintet in action, ranging from breezy, delicately nurtured chill improvisation to savage blues workouts to sprawling, call-andresponse fusion jazz. Watching them, you are immediately struck by a genuine sense of three guitarists all speaking into a common form in different accents and cadences, no one trying to outgun anyone else.
For well-tenured guitar geeks, of course, a little shameless exposition of chops isn’t such a bad thing, but none of the players devolve into the zillion-note kind of one-dimensional virtuosity that the Great Fusion Experiment of 40 years ago unwittingly unleashed.
About all that, Krantz, who recently published a book on improvisational technique (An Improviser’s OS), is reflective.
“Y’know, the whole education thing is kind of centered around the more mathematical side,” Krantz says, “because that’s a lot easier to teach than the poetry side. But honestly, the poetry side is really what ultimately matters.”
Krantz says the world is loaded with beautiful musicians, many with immense technical talent, but that the soul often gets lost in the technicality and/or technology.
BW also asked Krantz why Herring appears in the Ringers’ videos (the label’s promotional ones, as well as the cell phone variety) standing well off to stage right, more than spittin’ distance from Krantz in the middle and a stage’s breadth from Landau on stage left. Almost as if Herring is … a little afraid of the other two.
“Well I know he’s not afraid of us,” he says. “He has a certain position he needs to stand in relation to his amplifiers in order to get them to respond to his pickups the way he needs them to. He’s very knowledgeable and specific about what he needs, so I suspect that’s what you’re seeing whereas I’m just kind of roaming around, looking confused….”