Julien Kasper’s release, Flipping Time, introduces a down-home bluesy guitarist with a flair for funk and more than a nod to Jimi Hendrix. His tone is unique, his talent for melody phenomenal, and his band tighter than most working groups today.
Those looking for a bebop-fused sound such as Scofield or Frisell will be slightly disappointed. Kasper is clearly a blues influenced guitarist. His sound is more rock than swing, and so is his rhythm section. A heavy backbeat on most songs fused with syncopated (rather than walking) bass lines makes for an album that falls mostly outside the strict jazz idiom.
His tone is equally unique among most jazz guitarists. With plenty of reverb and a big, broad rock guitar sound Kasper’s voice is powerful. Combined with economy of phrasing and an ear for melody, Kasper gives us a sound we can’t help but listen to.
He offers a blues sensibility rarely seen. His improvisations are more syncopated and melody driven than technically flamboyant. This further illustrates his preference for a more lick-based, blues album than for a phrase-based bop release. He also is able to avoid the clichés of blues-playing. Without the typical blues licks, Kasper is open to explore his own melodies and consciousness.
This is not to say either that the whole album is two and four backbeats. On "I Know" and "And Now We Know" Kasper feels comfortable in more of a free format. His strength for lyrical lines never betrays him, even without the comfortable rhythm section offering a strong backbone. As a product of Berklee, his cultural sensibilities within various styles of music (blues, jazz, freer-form) shine through. His playing is educated as it is authentic.
"Blues for Charles" shows he is also at home within the confines of a ballad. The elongated lines match his phrasing perfectly. Similarly, his tone emphasizes the vocal moods of a slower, melody based tune.
With a nod to Jimi Hendrix, Kasper is not afraid to use various effects and devices on guitar. Without sacrificing tone, he adds character to his lines that cannot be achieved with a "simple" jazz guitar. Kasper uses the effects freely but efficiently.
The rhythm section also plays more than an incidental part. With Kasper’s long lines, is it mostly up to them to keep driving the beat. They do this through various devices, from heavy backbeats and walking bass lines to stop-time and syncopation. They provide full-support for the authentic sound Kasper sets an example for.
Flipping Time is an album that satiates the listener’s thirst for dirty, down-home, non-derivative blues. His tone is strong but not overpowering. His licks are technically proficient, but have nothing extra to distract from the vocal quality of a good blues tune. Kasper’s playing has all the qualities one can look for in a modern blues album.