Ever have a friend who was brilliant, witty, encyclopedic in knowledge, galactic in interests, prone to hyperactivity and who, as a result, drove you nuts? If that friend was a guitarist and composer, he would be Neil Lamb. Lamb's "New Tunes for Jazz Guitar" is, like an over-caffeinated genius on a full-tilt stream-of-conscious jag, all over the place in a way that is fascinating and maddening (although repeated listenings give a decided edge to fascinating).
Whether holding a guitar - the seven-string is his instrument of choice - or a pen, Lamb takes chances. The first track is illustrative. "Down the Mountain" begins with a descending arpeggiated figure, suggesting a reflective, mood-setting opener. That figure, and the six that follow, soon accelerates out of control, as if gravity could take hold of notes. It's a subtle warning that listeners should hold on to their hats for the 12 tunes that follow. There's a funky shuffle that threatens to break into a sprint. A couple of sweet, exquisitely voiced ballads that aren't the least bit afraid of getting emotional. Some electronics-driven free-form improvs. A big, acoustic-pounding folkie thing. Rockabilly. Road rage set to music. The atonal, arhythmic, amelodic "Itchy and Scratchy," Lamb says, is a "soundtrack for a humorous and violent cartoon." Given his studies in modern composition, he could just as well have said it was what would have happened had Schoenberg played guitar and hung out with drummers and bass players.
The drummer here is Dave Herzfeld; Jim Lyden's on bass. They're not given a lot to do on this record, but they know how to pick their spots and shine when opportunities arise. Mark Kleinhaut, another amazing Maine-based guitarist, joins Lamb for a duet in "Footsteps to Freedom."
Bruce Kyle for the Bangor Daily News. 06 /01/ 2002