An Introspective Steve Kimock Goes Into 'Solo Exploration Mode'

An interview with guitarist Steve Kimock, who plays Infinity Hall with his nimble jazz-rock quartet

Guitarist Steve Kimock's new instrumental album "Last Danger of Frost" is personal and experimental, with introspective, multi-part compositions, layered acoustic and electronic textures, mind-bending feedback and even humor.

K I M O C K, his nimble jazz-rock quartet, is something else entirely: Kimock, 60, is joined on the road by son John Morgan Kimock on drums (fresh off of working with in Phish bassist Mike Gordon's band), longtime bassist Bobby Vega; and multi-instrumentalist/singer Leslie Mendelson. The group performs at Infinity Hall in Hartford on Saturday, March 26.

Kimock, a Pennsylvania native, is perhaps best known for being a go-to guitarist in the Grateful Dead universe. In the late-1970s, he joined Keith and Donna Godchaux's short-lived Heart of Gold band; later, he was a regular member of Phil Lesh and Friends, Bob Weir's Kingfish and Ratdog, the Other Ones (featuring surviving members of the Dead) and the Rhythm Devils (GD drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, with a revolving cast of players).

But Kimock's ability to inhabit the sound-world of late GD guitarist Jerry Garcia barely scratches the surface of his talents as a guitarist and songwriter. Starting in the mid-1980s, Zero, an original project (also featuring Vega on bass), became a San Francisco-area mainstay; Steve Kimock and Friends, his long-running jam-rock band, has featured some of the best improv-rock musicians on the national scene.

Kimock made "Last Danger of Frost" at home, in what he calls "solo exploration mode." The music serves as an audio documentary: He'd walk around the studio, pointing microphones at anything he thought sounded interesting at any moment.

"The recording was very personal," he says. "I wasn't thinking at the time that I'd be taking it on the road. But it's not wholly different from what I'd be doing in a band, under ideal conditions."

Songs on "Frost" appear in the sequence they were recorded. One sound led to the next.

"I was literally just following my nose to an instrument and making a sound," Kimock says, "saying, 'Oh, yeah, that suggests something,' and just playing with that sound." The recording process ended when Kimock felt he'd achieved a cohesive whole. "I thought, 'Oh, that's a good little trip there.'"

Kimock recorded a few days' worth of nothing but guitar feedback, which he'll use at a later point. "I enjoyed making that feedback very much, but that probably drove everybody nuts," he says. "The amp is in one room feeding back, and you're in another room with headphones on, trying to hide from the thing."

One short track on "Frost," "The Artist Dies and Goes to Hell," features a jazz-guitar arrangement of another song ("Tongue and Groove"), rendered inaudible by ambient sounds of people talking and clinking glasses.

"That was a little bit of comic relief for me," Kimock says, "the idea that you can go out there with an acoustic guitar and be completely drowned out by people eating and drinking and talking on cellphones. … It's a comment on the not entirely musical situations we sometimes find ourselves playing music in."

Kimock met Mendelson, a New York-based singer-songwriter with her own album due out this summer, during a jam session at Weir's Tamalpais Research Institute (also known as TRI Studios), where he regularly webcasts concerts.

"We just enjoyed working together," Kimock says of Mendelson. "We have a really similar work ethic: nose to grindstone in service of song craft. For me, it's nice having someone like that in the band. … I like songs. I like stories, and she helps provide them."

Live, K I M O C K uses "Last Danger of Frost" tracks as the basis of its set, and some of the actual recorded music shows up as sample sounds or backing tracks.

"The only bit that we're really not trying to do verbatim is the solo-guitar feedback track, the super-swirly sequence and the layered eight-string steel guitar sounds, because I didn't really feel like bringing a bunch of eight-string steel guitars on the road," Kimock says.

The band is also writing new music to complement "Frost," and plans to record when the current tour ends. Kimock raises money for projects on pledgemusic.com.

"I'm doing my best to keep pushing the material and the production and the general vibe in the creative direction of the ['Frost'] record," Kimock says.

K I M O C K performs at Fairfield Theatre Company's StageOne in Fairfield on March 23 at 7:45 p.m. ($38; fairfieldtheatre.org) and again at Hartford's Infinity Hall on March 26 at 8 p.m. ($24 to $39; infinityhall.com.)

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