Hillmen — The Whiskey Mountain Sessions Vol. II
(Firepool Records FR009, 2018, CD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2018-04-06
It’s been about seven years since the first Hillmen release, which was The Whiskey Mountain Sessions, Vol.I. I guess one might suspect that the musicians involved just treat this as a fun sideline, while they earn their bread and butter in their regular bands, other music related endeavors, day jobs, or whatever. One thing for certain, Vol.II ws certainly worth the wait. Hillmen currently is drummer Peter Hillman (of Kiss The Frog), guitarist Lito Magana (Mestizo Beat), keyboardist Gayle Ellet (from Djam Karet and other projects) and bassist Jeff Smith (from Insects vs. Robots), whech represents some changes in guitar and bass since that long-ago first album, but the power of their take on free improvisation still persists, and has in fact improved with age. The opener “The Long Way Home” is in fact an earth-opening twenty minute journey that grooves along with an immense amount of power, continuously evolving as it goes, offering every member plenty of time in the spotlight. I’m not sure how long this version of the band has been together, but the tight and telepathic action they display as musicians together on that first cut is sublimely remarkable over its entire duration. Their pieces are apparently not rehearsed or even partially pre-composed, but just evolve in real time as the band plays, and the entire album came from a single session. There are two additional cuts which are also outstanding: “The Mestizo Insect Frog Jam” takes its name from the regular bands of each of the four members, driving a shuffling guitar based groove all the way across the ten minute mark, with some great Moog soloing by Ellett. The closer “Fire Breather” begins out a sort-of Krautrock meets space-jazz groove giving the whole crew a chanceto shine bright, though as expected it evolves a lot during its nine minutes with Magana throwing out some beautiful leads in this ever-burning inferno, somewhat reminiscent of the young Carlos Santana. Hillmen have certainly topped their first effort, which is no small feat. My only wish is that they would treat us to their creations more often.
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