Electric jazz: Guitarist Todd Clouser to present three imaginative shows

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One of the cool things about writing about music is that from time to time I’m able to read musicians’ excellent takes on their art — meditations that often explain their work far better than I could. The next one up to do his duty is guitarist Todd Clouser, who I interviewed last summer for a piece on the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. His band, A Love Electric, has been a big hit in Mexico, the Upper Midwest and beyond.

Clouser, whose work fuses modern jazz, rock and funk, performs tonight at the Red Stag in Minneapolis, followed by a show Tuesday at the Amsterdam in St. Paul and another Wednesday at Café Maude in south Minneapolis.

Here he is on those concerts, in his own words:

The idea for this week’s A Love Electric shows is simple: is to take some time to explore writers I’ve been influenced by and reinterpret their work through the lens of improvisation and my own sensibilities as a player and arranger. I develop these phantom personal relationships with artists I love, and get out of playing my own music for a while. It’s a whole different piece of the imagination I get to exercise.

Monday night we’re at the Red Stag playing the music of Elliott Smith. It has been an invigorating, if a bit trying, experience arranging eight of Elliott’s tunes. I listened to his music very intently in my late teens, as I identified with what could be seen as a largely existential expression at that time. His writing is far more daring than anything you would find in the great majority of modern songwriting. It’s just impossibly good at times. That can make it difficult at times to approach as a player or arranger. There were songs I began deconstructing and arranging that I just completely left behind, they were too perfect. The songs I settled on, we will present in our own manner, using the language we use in A Love Electric: improvisation, energy, expression. All the arrangements are unique and took a good deal of time for me to feel they were appropriate to each tune. It’s music that commands respect for its emotional sincerity.

Tuesday we are at the Amsterdam presenting deconstructive arrangements of Nirvana’s iconic “In Utero” record. Another situation that requires care and vision, as the record is such a complete and poignant artistic statement. The way I’ve approached it is to completely deconstruct the songs, pulling elements from the tunes and creating a canvas for us to improvise upon. I’m going to be singing a bit as well, which has been a new direction for our band, but feels true to how I feel we can best express, and make our statement, right now.

Wednesday at Cafe Maude with [bassist] James Buckley and [drummer] Greg Schutte we are going to play Brian Eno’s Discreet Music, which is largely a soundscape sort of situation, but there is this complete beauty in the commitment Eno had to each note he used on the record. The first piece runs over 30 minutes and is largely just two notes that comprise a major third. Being confined to that, the exploration of possibilities becomes that much more intentional. You can’t just blow all your stuff all over the tune. It’s very intricate, if simple sounding in its end.

Then I’m down to Mexico for a few week tour as A Love Electric, through Mexico City, Guadalajara, Puebla, the South Baja. It’s a different experience performing down there, one I have come to embrace and I think has been mutual. A lot more music happening up to the New Year, when we’ll begin pushing for our new A Love Electric record, which I’m really proud of, it’s an irritated art rock sort of statement that we recorded up in Woodstock, N.Y. with our band from Mexico City, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, and Brandon Wozniak on saxophone called “The Naked Beat.”

I’m really in love with playing music right now, more than ever, and feeling comfortable performing. Self doubt has always been my greatest inhibitor, paralyzing at times. [I] think it’s that way for all of us in whatever we do, but I’m feeling really great and just eager to express, create, leave the piece of art as it was made and keep moving. It feels healthy and keeps me digging towards something that transcends complacency.

Walking the beat

I continue to be impressed by the incredible work of jazz rhythm sections in the Twin Cities, where there are great bassists, including Billy Peterson, who performed with drummer Dave King in an incredible show over the weekend.

Another bassist who should be on everyone’s list of must-see performers is Anthony Cox, who is near the top of my list of artists to interview. (It could happen…) He takes the stage tonight at the Icehouse in Minneapolis, with drummer JT Bates, pianist Bryan Nichols and saxophonist Michael Lewis.

Check them out.

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