Very rarely in this life does one get to see—up close and personal—an eruption of singular young talent that is both mesmerizing and thrilling. But last night, I had such a moment in a small New York City nightclub at the American musical debut of two 20-year-old Canadians—guitarist Julien Sandiford and drummer Max Lazich.
Teamed with veteran bass player, Hansford Rowe, this new trio is called HR3. What was barely contained on this small stage at 78 Below on Columbus Ave. was a musical tour de force driven by three talented improvisational artists.
Julien Sandiford—remember that name—is an extraordinary guitarist who is already among the best in the business. Yet, he’s only 20-years-old, and has been playing seriously since he was 12. He practices five to seven hours a day and can play anything, including even what he doesn’t know. (“He doesn’t know this song well, but you’ll never know it,” Rowe quipped.)
Max Lazich is the drummer. He’s also 20. He met Sandiford when they were students at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. The pair then met Hansford Rowe, a professional bassist who has been a member of Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, Gongzilla and a project called Moment featuring Spanish guitarist Jordi Torrens.
From these meetings, HR3 was born.
The group officially plays jazz, but never the same way twice. Their list of influences pretty much explains what happens on stage. The names include Brice Marden, the minimalist painter; Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, the jazz pioneers; and Frank Zappa, the eclectic musician and composer.
Marden's paintings, which are hard to describe, are often born from a particular experience, or in reaction to having spent time in a specific place.
Miles Davis created and manipulated ritual space, in which gestures could be endowed with symbolic power sufficient to form a functional communicative, and hence musical, vocabulary. He cared about individual expression, emphatic interaction and creative response to shifting content.
Mingus focused on collective improvisation, similar to the old New Orleans jazz parades, paying particular attention to how each band member interacted with the group as a whole. In creating his bands, Mingus looked not only at the skills of the available musicians, but also their personalities.
And Zappa dabbled in virtually all kinds of music—jazz-rock fusion, guitar virtuoso, electronics wizard and orchestral innovator. He was seen establishing a coherent and personal expression.
When you take the sum of these influences, some of each can be found in HR3’s performance. The trio was clearly winging it often, and would trade smiles to communicate after pulling off a particularly thrilling improvisational challenge. It was fun to watch their on-stage interplay.
In fact, Rowe, who spoke for the group during the performance, said working with Sandiford and Lazich offered improv possibilities “higher than average” than with other players. An understatement, to be sure.
Lazich said after the performance that a recording of any HR3 show would be different from another because of the interplay between musicians. That was a big part of the magic of this group, combined with the uncompromising artistry of all the musicians.
Sandiford, who also composed several of the songs played, performs on a Framus guitar. Framus, a German company, made guitars, basses, lap steel guitars and banjos from 1946 to 1975. The Framus brand was revived in 1995 as part of Warwick GmbH & Co. Music Equipment KG in Markneukirchen (Germany). Rowe is also a pioneering artist using Warwick bass guitars. The company sponsored the HR3 performance.
In a Sandiford composition, titled “Ambivalent,” the young guitarist showed his stuff. His playing style reminded me of the work of guitarist Les Paul, who had a similar approach. The group also did a couple of Spanish songs in tribute to Torrens.
Sandiford and Lazich not only did their performance debut in New York City, but it’s their first trip to the United States. There is little doubt in my mind they will return soon. Their’s is a rare, undisputed talent that is the beginning what I suspect will be a long and fruitful career.