Bruce Arnold—Guitar and Processed Guitar
Ratzo Harris—Acoustic Bass
Stomu Takeishi—Electric Bass
Tony Moreno and Kirk Driscoll—Drums and Percussion
“Jazz follows classical music and blues and rock follow jazz” says Bruce Arnold in discussing his music. On Blue Eleven all of these elements are present, from the classically-influenced and austere “Variations” to the howling eleven-bar blues of the title track.
To hear or purchase music from this CD please visit the Blue Eleven Page at the record company Muse Eek Recordings.
Finding an original spin in a world full of compositional cliches is no easy task, but guitarist Bruce Arnold takes an impressive shot on Blue Eleven his debut recording as a leader. Using a sparse framework of “Variations” on a single theme, Arnold builds an expansive palette over which his musicians (bassists Stomu Takeishi, Ratzo Harris, drummers Tony Moreno, Kirk Driscoll) create an atmospheric otherworld. While his guitar with its burnished tone weaves detailes sketches, Arnold allows space for engrossing group improvisations, resulting in a controlled experiment of moody minimalist melody, thoughtful arranging and energetic musicianship. Alternating between acoustic guitar and trio-propelled pieces, Blue Eleven moves from ethereal, soaring sounds to deliberate square-jawed workouts. After the eight “Variations”, Blue Eleven changes pace. “Drops” is a bouyant Methenyesque splash of rhythm; “Blue Eleven” a frazzled blast of electro-bop.”
“An intriguing collection of evocative post-Frisell instrumental music for acoustic and electric guitars. At times heady and theoretical, reflecting Arnold’s obvious interest in 20th Century classical composition. Blue Eleven is nonetheless an ambitious outing that would appeal to an ECM-ish audience, especially fans of Ralph Towner, Bill Conners, and the aforementioned Bill Frisell. A couple of pieces here are catchy and downright radio accessible, notably the buoyant acoustic guitar – hadjini jam “Hobroken” and the Metheny-influenced “Drops.” Other pieces require more concentration, particularly the four 12-tone constructs for solo acoustic guitar. Fuzoid fans will dig the title track, a raucous swinging power trio session with electric bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Tony Moreno. On this lone track, Arnold puts aside his gentle acoustic aesthetic to rip with a vengeance on electric guitar. Both challenging and highly rewarding.”
“Guitarist Bruce Arnold states in the liner notes to Blue Eleven that his goal is to “achieve a balance between emotional expression and formal exploration.” It sounds as though he has achieved that balance on this CD which provides a richly rewarding listening experience as it presents Arnold’s guitar stylings in both solo and trio settings. None of the music on this CD strikes the listener as routine, yet none of the music seems as though it is trying to sound different for difference’s sake…This is a really strong CD that should win Bruce Arnold many fans once the word gets out.”
—The Sensible Sound
“In New York’s varied musical community there are many accomplished, often astounding musicians who never achieve national status. These players, classified loosely as jazz musicians, make their living traveling to Europe and Japan (given Manhattan’s bleak club circuit), or teaching privately or in colleges. Blue Eleven features the playing of such musicians. Working through a set of theme and variation, guitarist Bruce Arnold takes two trios through exploratory terrain. Rearranging the melody or simply changing the atmosphere, he finds a new niche in each of Blue Eleven’s thirteen slowly evolving performances. From lush and simmering (“Did I Tell You”) to oddly twisted (“Variation 4”) to breezily meditative (“Variation 2”), the music leaps and spins like a spider immersed in a private ballet. Kirk Driscoll plays on three tracks, creating both unusual conga-like patterns and textured swing. With no marked stylistic bent to weigh him down, Driscoll is a fresh, freely aimed drummer. Tony Moreno can summon the intensity of Elvin Jones and the mad roar of Buddy Rich, but here he largely plays it cool, responding to Arnold’s delicate picking and soaring solos. Moreno sounds best on the album’s closing tracks, which don’t adhere to the aforementioned “Variations.” On “Drops” his tensile rhythms mutate and shift, incorporating cowbell over 8th-note patterns or high-flying, intricate time maneuvering over a bass solo. The title track is free and forward, with Moreno dotting the rhythm with jagged snare drum blasts and DeJohnette-inspired interplay. Frank Zappa said, “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.” Blue Eleven maintains that aromatic tradition.”
—Modern Drummer Magazine
“Firstly I have to admit that guitars are not my favourite instrument. Sure, I can appreciate Jimi Hendrix, John McLaughlin, Julian Bream and mabye even Johnny Marr, but as far as jazz is concerned I have a problem…All this said makes it all the more surprising that I found Bruce Arnold’s new album ‘Blue Eleven’ very enjoyable. Playing both electric and acoustic instruments on his own compositions, Mr. Arnold has produced a thought-provoking and stimulating piece of work. Performing mostly within the context of a variety of small groups, the record ranges in style from sensitive 12-tone solo compositions like ‘Variation 1’ (track 3) to more unrestrained rock influenced compositions like ‘Drops’. In fact, the inventively titled ‘Variations 1- 4’ are all interpreted both on solo acoustic then on electric accompanied by bass and drums. This provides a fascinating insight into the musical mind of Bruce Arnold.
Considering his interest in 12-tone theory all the tunes are remarkably accessible. The opener ‘Hobroken’ sees Arnold accompanied by Todd Isler on Hadgini (a percussion instrument that sounds very similar to tablas). Arnold’s technique on steel stringed acoustic is crisp and the tonal colour of the hadgini complements his bright sounding guitar admirably. ‘Did I Tell You’ is equally thoughtful but sees Arnold in more intense mode playing electric. The album stays pleasingly restrained until track 11 ‘Drops’ and track 12 ‘Blue Eleven’ take the mood into a more abandoned jazz rock area…Bruce Arnold has made an extremely enjoyable record and I look forward to the opportunity of catching him live.”
—Absolute Jazz Online Magazine
“Arnold’s well-schooled guitar has academic precision and lyrical grace and clarity. This recording is a melange of his conceptions, including the title track, a unique 11 bar blues, some fusion material and the art song “Day in the Badlands” sung by the operatic Thomas Buckner. The central focus of the date are his four “Variations”, studied pieces played first in unaccompanied pristine form, then rhythmically enhanced in trio format with either Ratso Harris and Tony Moreno, or Stomu Takeishi and Kirk Driscoll, all making for close listening to the finely wrought compositions.”
“On the opening “Hobroken,” the listener will hear a lot of guitarist Ralph Towner’s influence, his cognitive, slower-paced style of writing and playing permeating the session. Arnold is obviously a well-schooled musician who couldn’t care less about the good old II-V-I, preferring instead much more difficult terrain, as has the Oregon guitarist.
Arnold bravely repeats four of the self-penned cuts, first playing them on solo guitar and then as ensemble pieces. With the possible exception of “Variation 1,” the solo pieces are not so sparse compared to their band versions as to cause the listener to scan them with remote in hand. By themselves, they sound like impressionistic classical guitar compositions; next to the fleshed-out interpretations, the skeletal versions serve as rough but interesting blueprints still lacking what will transform them into the fine Jazz pieces they become.
The outing owes a great deal to ECM’s Manfred Eicher and his unique style (the term Library Jazz seems to fit), which has proven over the last several decades to be the greatest current, non-stateside influence on Jazz. Arnold does well in continuing Eicher’s contribution to Jazz tradition.”
”This new release from MMC Recordings of Woburn, MA features the artistry of guitarist Bruce Arnold. Arnold taught at Berklee and the New England Conservatory and became interested in 20th century composition. His love of the acoustic guitar is apparent on this fusion album featuring his own compositions. I found the performance very relaxing, especially Variation 3 played by the trio. The recording and mixing by Systems Two of Brooklyn is nothing less than superb and show off Bruce Arnold’s mastery of his instrument.”
—The Jazz Fan Attic On-line Review
“After years as a mainstay guitarist on the Boston jazz scene, Bruce Arnold has released his first CD as a leader. On the surface, “Blue Eleven” has a sometimes folksy, almost new agey feel, with some tracks displaying a more fiery guitar style reminiscent of John Scofield (e.g. the title track). On a deeper level, however, “Blue Eleven” is the next step in Arnold’s quest to incorporate twentieth-century classical compositional techniques — especially twelve-tone technique — into jazz. The most intriguing piece on the disc is a set of four beautiful twelve-tone variations. First, Arnold plays each variation alone; he is then joined by a bassist and a drummer for a spontaneous cross-examination of the musical material presented during his introduction. Only slightly less intriguing (but perhaps even more lovely) than the variations is the song “A Day in the Badlands”. Sung by a classical baritone, this piece would be easily mistaken for an early twentieth-century Expressionist art song both in style and tenor, if the accompaniment were performed on a piano rather than an airy, atmospheric electric guitar. Points go to Arnold for his accessible approach to twelve-tone technique.”
—Splendid E-zine On-line Review
“Bruce Arnold is a guitarist in the straight lineage of Mick Goodrick. He plays a balanced game, sometimes rapid, not hesitating to lay down “piano” chords, equally at ease on the acoustic guitar as on the electric, always looking for the beauty of a full, round sound, and clean attacks. He is also a composer, he composed 12 of 13 titles (on the album). He is surrounded by different drummers and bassists including the young Japanese New Yorker, Stomu Takeishi, who with his remarkable inventiveness and punch and feeling, enraptured the crowd at Jazz à Toulon with Lazlo Gardony in 1992. Hence, some musicians to discover in a varid format.”
—Jazz Hot French Jazz Magazine
“Guitarist and composer Bruce Arnold has put together a collection of 13 intriguing originals for solo guitar and trio. Arnold is a fine writer with a highly developed approach to harmony that is evident on the four tunes for solo guitar which are also fleshed out subsequently as trio pieces for Stomu Takeishi and Ratzo B. Harris on bass and Kirk Driscoll and Tony Moreno on drums. Arnold does not write typical Tin Pan Alley type tunes; chord voicings are unusual and resolutions never obvious. Arnold’s interest in 20th Century classical music is also apparent in his compositions (the twelve-tone title track, for example) which will be of interest to anyone looking for an individual voice in modern music and to fans of artists such as Bill Frisell, Mick Goodrick and Allan Holdsworth, among others. Recommended.”
“Bruce Arnold is a guitarist with a distinctive sound and a thoughtful and often introspective style. On this disc from MMC (P.O. Box 2127, Woburn, MA 01888), Arnold alternates trio numbers (usually with Stomu Takeishi or Ratzo Harris on bass and Kirk Driscoll or Tony Moreno on drums) with unaccompanied solo interludes. All of the selections (including four “Variations” that are taken both solo and with a trio) are Arnold’s originals and most develop quite slowly although the guitarist does show some fire on a few of the numbers (most notably “Drops”) Since there is plenty of improvising and the feeling of the blues is also present, this music is definitely jazz but it will probably also appeal to fans of ECM recordings, more adventurous New Age listeners and even some rockers…A fine first effort. ”
—L.A. Jazz Scene
“Jazzer Arnold mixes atmospherics and acoustics with a gentle yet complex melodic sense, pitching his tent on the common ground of Frisell, Scofield and Metheny.”
—Guitar Player Magazine
“My only other contact with Bruce Arnold’s work was as a member of the group Act of Finding, an improvisational experiment with composer Tom Hamilton. He is joined by singer Thomas Buckner and Ratzo B. Harris from that group on Blue Eleven, an unusual attempt to merge that outside sensibility with a more pop-jazz sound….Arnold is a remarkable guitarist with a powerful intellectual approach and a strong sense of possibility. much in the same vein as Bill Frisell. The guitar solo versions of his variations exemplify his minimalist approach to beauty…Blue Eleven has some solid moments that make watching this guitarist’s future a worthwhile endeavor.”
—CMJ (College Music Journal)
“Arnold studied jazz guitar at Berklee during the 80’s, and this solo release offers impressive evidence that he left that school with quite a set of chops. ..That said, Arnold does emerge as a thoughtful composer and talented player of austere sketches in the vein of Schoenberg and Webern–not the usual turf for jazz electric guitarists… He holds the spotlight particularly well alone when he plays like a European in love with the serial music of the 1920’s.”
—The Boston Phoenix
“Guitarist Bruce Arnold states in the liner notes to Blue Eleven that his goal is to “achieve a balance between emotional expression and formal exploration.” It sounds as though he has acheived that balance on this CD which provides a richly rewarding listening experience as it presents Arnold’s guitar stylings in both solo and trio settings. None of the music on this CD strikes the listener as routine, yet none of the music seems as though is is trying to sound different for difference’s sake…This is a really strong CD that should win Bruce Arnold many fans once the word gets out.”
—The Sensible Sound
“Bruce Arnold, a New York City-based guitarist stirs together the fusion feel of Pat Metheny and John Scofield, then adds 12-tone serial forms to the mix on Blue Eleven. With two rhythm sections and occasional helpers, Arnold reveals lots of technique in a promising debut.”