Michael Landau has been a major force on the Los Angeles studio scene for 25 years: a
musical chameleon playing on hundreds of albums by artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell,
Rod Stewart, James Taylor, Neil Diamond, Julio Iglesias and Dolly Parton. In the j
world, he's played with Joe Sample, Tom Scott and George Duke... even Miles Davis
(Amandla, Columbia 1989).
But in all those years the guitarist has released only a handful of solo albums on small
labels. Millions of people have heard him play, but precious few would actually know his
name. Live, on the fusion centric Tone Center label, finally gives Landau a re
broad distribution, and the result will likely surprise even those who think they know
what he's about.
The real question, when a studio ace comes out of hiding and releases two hours of
visceral live material, is this: who is Michael Landau w
hen he's in total control of the
situation? While his stylistic breadth elsewhere would suggest that this is only one part
of the answer, Live posits him, amongst other things, as a powerful torchbearer for Jimi
Hendrix. While the late Stevie Ray Vaughan w
as most often saddled with that accolade,
Landau's broader language more accurately represents where Hendrix might be today,
since the late guitar icon was clearly moving towards his own view of jazz in the final
days before his tragic passing in 1970.
Landau's approach is unfettered, ranging from screaming feedback, swooping whammy
bar bends and rapid fire phrasing to warmer and more elegant voicings and lines where
space becomes an equal partner. Even at his most energetic, there's a concept at work.
Landau may play over the top at times, but he's never excessive. Culled from
performances at LA's legendary Baked Potato club over a period of two years and with
three different groups, Landau runs the gamut from in
the-gut blues ("Worried LifeBlues) and p
ower rock jams ("Underwear ) to his own take on swing ("The Mighty SB )
and free playing that's barely contained within a loose structure ("Ghouls and Goblins ).
He's also a surprisingly strong vocalist; half of the twelve largely self penned tunes
his sometimes gritty singing voice.
While Landau's playing is the glue that binds this music together, the two discs are
stylistically divided: the first leans towards powerful blues/rock, the second more overt
fusion. Landau's groups are as versatile a
s its leader, each represented on both discs
across the widest possible range of material.
Like fellow axe
John Kelman (All About Jazz)