The New Cool: Guitarist R.L. Heyer introduces new quartet, Al Hemiola
I've always been a fan of jazz puns — from album titles (Lee Morgan's "Lee-Way") to song titles (Dizzy Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere"). They might be a little corny but I just love them. So, when an email from a new Seattle quartet calling themselves Al Hemiola arrived, I was more than a little interested.
Introducing themselves as members of the "Seattle groove scene," the band takes its name from legendary fusion guitarist Al DiMeola, who began his career in the mid-'70s with Chick Corea's "Return to Forever."
Al Hemiola features Seattle guitarist R.L. Heyer, a popular and busy sideman you've seen around the Seattle area in many different settings. Mostly, Heyer excels on the imaginary musical borderline of jazz and rock. He's a versatile player who's worked with the Bob Curnow Big Band, Flowmotion, Happy Orchestra, Gold Tooth, and Cracker Factory and is also a busy singer, songwriter and guitarist.
This new quartet was founded by Heyer with good friends and frequent collaborators bassist David Dawda, drummer Brad Boal, and Bob Rees on vibraphone and percussion.
Their first releases are a pair of songs — they call them "The First Single & B-Side" — now available digitally on their bandcamp page.
"Moab" takes the virtual A-side and drifts along a hypnotic, twangy journey that reminds me more of guitarist Bill Frisell's forays into jazz-Americana than the band's semi-namesake. Dawda's bass and Boal's drums set a consistent high-desert, mid-tempo groove as Heyer decorates the song with an echo-soaked guitar which leads to a catchy chorus.
The contributions of Bob Rees are more subtle, with seemlessly mixed percussion and hints of vibraphone emphasizing Heyer's guitar melody. The ultra-cool guitar solo hits all the right spots on "Moab," and the band finishes the song like confident gunslingers stepping into a dangerous saloon.
The digital B-side is "Ear of the Dog," marking musical territory in a bluesy, soft-rock setting. Heyer's melody is just as strong on the flip side, and his guitar work is closer to my impression of Al DiMeola's smooth fusion guitar sound.
Increasing the tempo just slightly, the assertive guitar solo here could also attract modern blues fans. Heyer is a talented and prolific singer, and I could imagine "Ear of the Dog" including vocals in another musical life.
Heyer has kept himself busy with numerous musical forays around Seattle for years, and one wonders if the Al Hemiola quartet was only meant for a couple songs. There is potential for a full album, in my humble opinion. Certainly, it's an exceptional addition to the fast-growing R.L. Heyer discography. I'm excited to bring "Moab" into the New Cool mix on Saturday's show.
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.