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  • Jonathan Widran


The remarkably eclectic 15-year recording career of guitarist Kenny Carr makes it very clear that the trademark genius tag applied to Ray Charles extended to the legend’s intuition when it came to choosing the perfect musicians for his ensembles. Auditioning for the band while in his final year at Berklee, Carr responded to Charles’ request to “play the blues” to the tune of ten incredible years of worldwide touring.

Nothing you’ve heard before from Carr as he’s explored different styles of jazz (traditional, smooth, Latin, blues-jazz) will quite prepare you for the raging, high octane rock and roll, funk and blues fired energy he unleashes on Hard Jazz, his epic latest perfectly titled album. COVID-19 has been an extremely difficult time for artists and the music industry at large, but Carr felt the anxious and challenging circumstances opened the door for him to release the album now instead of sometime down the line, as originally planned. As he says, “Everyone is grieving and going through different shocks right now, but also celebrating heroes and recoveries. I felt all of that in these tunes.”

The searing, nearly non-stop grooving and electric guitar blistering flow is particularly fascinating when you experience it in tandem with his other 2020 release Passages, a lightly swinging trad jazz work that showcases the more sensual and sensitive side of Carr’s guitar artistry – without sacrificing the Charlesque bluesy grooving of course. Aligning with Carr’s statement, Hard Jazz – which features bassist Dave D’aranjo and drummer Richie Morales, with guest turns by drummer Brian Fuller and bassist Joseph Wallace – is an expression of personal empowerment and blinding optimism from the get go.

The constantly percolating “Prelude to a Lead” incorporating crisp jazz licks into a booming intro before the rock madness takes over – and over and over, as barnburners like the title track and “Chicago Ray” shake our eardrums into ecstatic joy. Yet no matter how loud the volume is and how mind bending the note flurries and distortion gets, the Charles influence is never far. Tunes like “Electric Groove” and “Keep Me Searching” all springboard from a lively foundational blues/funk/soul groove and Carr never lets his chops and virtuosity distract from his passion for compelling melodies.

There’s even a cosmic power ballad (“Answer”) for those looking for a chillout moment and some more atmospheric spaces to hear him solo. Hard Jazz is a sensory and soul transporting work that begs the question – will the rock and roll expression be a one off or perhaps lay a foundation for more bursts of wilder and louder adventure in the future? My hopeful bet’s on the latter.


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