Tom Hess

Chris Kalkbrenner and Tom Hess: Rock Tracks Volume 1

Rock Tracks Volume 1 is a CD of eleven “songs” to jam with. The music is wonderfully produced and each title gives you the key so you can know how to go about soloing. The inner notes also include scale suggestions for soloing.

I had a lot of fun playing along with this. The songs do shift in tone and dynamic and the CD doesn’t come with any kind of written music or book to follow along with while you play. Tom tells me “…about the Rock Tracks CD, I teach lessons here at my studio, at the college and also via the internet. For my students that have the Rock Tracks CD, there are a series of lessons that go along with it, but the CD itself is sold on its own.” That would certainly be one way to learn more about them. You could also make notes yourself, which would also be a great learning exercise for anyone serious about music. Or you could simply play along with it enough times to get all the changes down!

Rock Tracks Volume 1 is very open, meaning that there’s a lot of space to play around with. You could jam with your guitar or try your hand at bass, keyboards, or any number of instruments. I had a great time playing along with Acoustic in A minor (track 5) and Ballad in C major (track 9) on my mandolin.

I’ve been seeing (and hearing) a lot of these types of CDs in music stores these days. Rock Tracks Volume 1 will definitely appeal to players who like these discs and want something challenging to play along with.

Hess: Opus 2

Opus 2, by Tom Hess’s band, HESS, is quite an achievement. While Tom, in the album’s liner notes, talks of the pieces being “…autobiographical in their expression of personal thoughts, emotions, ideas, events, regrets and desires…” it’s hard not to be in awe of it simply from a technical standpoint. This band can play.

The ten songs that comprise Opus 2 are more dialogs than anything else, conversations between the guitars of Tom Hess and musical partner Mike Walsh. Nexuses opens the CD with a jolt, and gives you a pretty good idea that you’re in for a fascinating and thrilling ride. The solos start out stately and get blisteringly fast in a hurry. And before you can catch your breath, Kingdoms carries you off on another flurry of guitar lines and driving rhythms.

And speaking of rhythms, Tom’s masterful use of different timings in his compositions is sometimes deliberately jarring, often catching the listener totally off guard. But then, in pieces such as Into The Pinnacle (featuring some incredibly lovely harmony work by Tom and Mike) and The Cynic, The Sad, and The Fallen, he creates marvelous juxtapositions of tone and styles, crunching one moment, lyrically pastoral the next.

While there is certainly a lot of technical skill on display here, there is also emotion and plenty of it. The haunting melody lines of What Could Have Been…And What Is Not… and the artful call and response of Through The Trials leave no doubt of the melancholy, hopes, sadness and joy that lie behind and bolster the artistry of the two guitarists.

Mark Carozza’s bass playing, while overshadowed at times, does a great job of holding things together, especially on pieces like Through The Trials, Behold, and Stained, the latter two pieces also demonstrating how well Mark and drummer/percussionist Scott Hess manage to provide a perfect place for Tom and Mike to spar. It’s almost like watching a swordfight being performed atop a moving bullet train, with Mark and Scott being the train!

Beyond The Brink and Waves Of Far Reaching close the CD in style, recapping many of the earlier stylistic and thematic motifs. All in all, Opus 2 is an exhilarating experience. I can’t wait for Opus 3.

For more information on Opus 2, Rock Tracks Volume 1 as well as other music from HESS, visit the official HESS website.