Born: October 25, 1967 Primary Instrument: Guitar, 8-string
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jack West’s band Curvature is an ensemble of virtuoso musicians engaged in the development of West’s ground breaking progressive acoustic jazz concept. While nothing explains it better than listening to their most recent CD, the music can be described as a collection of unusual and completely original rhythmic ideas infused with elements of acoustic blues, modern jazz improvisation, and funk�all in the radical context of 8-string acoustic guitar, 14 string pedal steel/dobro, marimba lumina, and drums.
Jack West's “brilliant original compositions” (Contra Costa Times) are characterized by “tight arrangements, musical use of odd-time signatures and polyrhythms, and engaging, intricate melodies (Electronic Musician). Harmonically speaking, the music is not too “out” �Curvature engages the listener instead with music that is “immediately accessible, owing to West's beguiling melodic sensibility and his absorbing percussive attack” (SF Bay Guardian).
More than any one thing, rhythm is the key to Curvature’s music. Though the band can dive deep into the land of polyrhythms, and odd-meters, they can also lay down an irrestible funky groove if the house wants to move. People are frequently surprised at how natural sounding West’s unusual rhythms are�like why hasn’t anyone played this before? To Jack West though, it is all just simply a matter of maintaining proper curvature on the groove. “All rhythms are curved like life. I just look for rhythmic cycles and melodic arcs that accurately reflect the cycles and experiences of my life.”
West’s innovative compositions serve as launching pads for intense improvisation. The combination of Joel Davel’s outrageous marimba lumina improvisations, David Phillips’ screaming pedal steel solos, and Jack West’s soulful slide guitar work is best summed up by a recent comment in the Oakland Tribune: “nothing short of astounding!”. Each of these world class musicians has developed masterful improvisational techniques on instruments rarely heard in this context. The music also showcases West's “astounding rhythmic dexterity and unorthodox technique” (SJ Mercury News). He seamlessly integrates strange tunings, simultaneous bass line/melody playing, unusual percussive effects, and his unique hammer/slide technique�and always achieves deeply musical and emotional (not technical) ends.
One of the most interesting and initially disorienting aspects to the Curvature experience live is that the acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and marimba lumina are not fixed in their typical roles. Bass lines, melodies, and chords flow seamlessly between the three instruments while the musicians enjoy the freedom of multi-faceted expression.
Bizarre instruments, role reversals, and virtuoso performances aside, Curvature is developing a strong following on the west coast right now primarily because the music is original and recognizable and is not simply a collage of musical styles. Though the primary elements of American music are all brought to the table�West brings acoustic blues/jazz, Phillips brings country/rock, Davel brings electronic/new music, Gray brings Gospel/funk/hip-hop�it is all mixed with such a heavy dose of new, creative ideas that the end result absolutely “sounds like something never heard before” (Oakland Tribune).