Jorma Kaukonen | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jorma Kaukonen


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Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen's hot licks propelled the Jefferson Airplane from 1965 until 1972, when he and bassist Jack Casady split to concentrate on Hot Tuna. Backing away from the larger group's excesses--musical and otherwise--they mixed up metallic country blues, pristine re-creations of acoustic blues standards, and even an occasional hazy twin-engine flight of surrealism like "New Song for the Morning." Though Hot Tuna's been an on-and-off gig since 1978, in his solo work Kaukonen has kept the lamps it lit trimmed and burning: on his current disc, Too Many Years... (American Heritage/Relix), he works in everything from hoary folk chestnuts like "Nine Pound Hammer" to wafting original pop dreamscapes like the title track. His phrasing can be choppy and his voice sometimes sounds constricted in the upper registers, but Kaukonen's guitar does the real singing anyway. He's a lifelong admirer (and onetime student) of the Reverend Gary Davis, the blind Piedmont-style fingerpicker whose speed and polyrhythmic virtuosity have set the standard for generations of players; and even during Kaukonen's brief foray into new wave in the early 80s, he never abandoned his mentor's harmonic sureness or improvisational discipline. His supple, full-toned string bends manage to be both bluesy and baroque, his chords shimmer with clarity, and the precise craftsmanship of his solos makes even their silences iridescent. Saturday, 8 and 10:30 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. DAVID WHITEIS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Luciano Viti.

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