Traveling is usually an accepted routine in the life of a working musician. That's certainly been the case for guitarist Ross Hammond.
Though born in Lexington, he has spent all of his professional life in Sacramento, Calif., establishing a voice of his own for the jazz guitar and, more importantly, an audience to accept and appreciate it. While the West Coast has afforded him numerous performance situations, including a commission from Sacramento's Crocker Art Museum that yielded an outstanding live recording and a favorable write-up in the jazz magazine Downbeat, furthering his guitar voice inevitably meant hitting the road.
"I go to the East Coast every six months or so and just try to have a presence," Hammond says. "I just turned 37, so if there is a time to do this, to travel and pay your dues in a national sense, I think it's kind of now or never. I'm just trying to grow the circle a little bit more every year. That's the idea, so I'm trying to do whatever is possible to get out.
"I think that's helped in terms of visibility, too. Maybe people might go, 'Oh, here's this dude from California. What's he got going on?'"
This weekend though, Hammond travels to Kentucky for personal as well as professional reasons. The trip was initially designed simply as a visit to see his father. But when Ross Compton, chieftain of the Outside the Spotlight series, got wind the guitarist was heading to Lexington, he arranged for a performance Friday at the Mecca dance studio on Manchester Street.
The concert will be unplugged in the truest sense of the term. Hammond will perform without a band and minus amplification of any kind.
"It's totally stripped down," Hammond says. "You can't get any more stripped down than this."
Somewhat coincidentally, the performance ties into Hammond's newest recording project, a collection of solo guitar pieces scheduled for release over the winter.
"I had this idea to do this recording of how the music would sound around the house when you're playing an acoustic," he says. "It's mostly original, but there are also some hymns. What I recorded was a lot of 12-string, 6-string and resonator/slide guitar music. I'll just be playing 6 and 12 string when I'm in Lexington. People will just have to sit in close at the show, but that should work out pretty good."
The upcoming solo record differs considerably from Hammond's most recently issued recording, Humanity Suite. The album is a live document of the piece commissioned by the Crocker and was recorded at the museum.
Humanity Suite was designed around a 2013 Crocker exhibit of works by visual artist Kara Walker, known for using paper silhouettes to reflect scenes of racism, violence and slavery. Walker's Crocker exhibit combined dark silhouetted images with photos of the Civil War that first appeared in Harper's magazine. Hammond's music is a blend of neo-classical accents, subtle groove and open improvisation.
"The Crocker asked me to play opening night of the exhibit," Hammond says. "So I thought if we're going to do this big show, I want to write new music specifically for the event. Then they commissioned the piece. I was able to get Catherine Sikora, who is a really wonderful tenor saxophonist in New York, and Vinny Golia, who is a great (saxophonist) in Los Angeles. I was able to bring them out and play with a lot of the guys in Sacramento and we just made this sextet.
"The music wasn't really like, 'This song goes to that piece.' It was more like, 'If all these silhouettes were made into a film, what would the film sound like?' That's how I went about it.
"The recording was a little bit of a risk, too. There are just two giant tracks. But people seem to dig it."