Magic Is

ALBUM REVIEW by writer/musician Don Campbell --

Idle hands, the saying goes, are the devil’s playthings. We’ve learned the hard way that nothing idles hands like a devastating COVID-19 pandemic. The wrath of the wildly infectious virus, unleashed on the world in 2020 and persisting still, put a serious dent in many artists’ creativity and productivity, with no live gigs and few opportunities to collaborate and record.

Not so with Kit Garoutte. The composer, guitarist, bassist and recordist spent his quarantine time – alone and with virtual collaborators – crafting and recording a 10-song project called “Magic Is (As Magic Does).” Pulling from past compositions, snippets and ideas, as well as newer creations, Garoutte has conjured up an instrumental fusion-funk-jazz album that sizzles with strong, singular melodies, creative chordal modes and grooves, and stellar musicianship.

The genesis of the project was a pile of drum tracks that Garoutte had recorded with The Dalles drummer Jeff Minnick (Junior Brown, Gary Primich, Paul deLay) at Minnick’s home studio for possible use with some backing tracks that Garoutte was working on. Idle hands and some free time can, in the right configuration, result in musical gold.

“I got to thinking that since I couldn’t play with live players during the early part of the pandemic,” Garoutte said, “I would have some fun playing bass with those tracks that Jeff had played so well and creatively. So one evening after [significant other] Ann went to bed I started playing with it, adding bass and finding some cool stuff, then adding guitar tracks, and after various compositional editing, by the time the night was over it was pretty well done. It was the fastest multi-track recording I ever felt no qualms about using in a publicly accessible music collection.”

Garoutte enlisted the services of some of his favored musicians from Portland, where he spent years honing his sizable chops, and the Columbia River Gorge, home to a number of exceptional expat players. In addition to Minnick, he tapped drummer Jay Lundell, bassist Dave Captein, Brian Rose on keyboards, drummer Mike Grodner, pianists Matt Cooper and Tim Mayer, and bassist Ted Swenson. Garoutte, in addition to guitar and bass, added various guitar synth parts and embellishments.

It was a decidedly iterative approach to song creation and tracking. Says Garoutte, “Magic Is (As Magic Does) and Joyous were a result of playing to drum tracks, this time provided by my old friend Jay Lundell with whom I played in Rainbow a while back. I laid down some bass ideas first, then started adding guitar and guitar synth parts, with each new flavor influencing the composition and arrangement.”

Along with Whitewater Run those iterative compositions were several brand new Garoutte songs that came about while recording the album. And because of the influence of the guitar synthesizer, he offers, the newer songs have a different general feel and style than those that he had written pre-synth.

Garoutte had every intention of fully exploiting the talents of Portland bass heavyweight Dave Captein, who contributed a thunderous bass line on Rogue, but soon found himself thoroughly embedded with playing his own bass lines (oh, those idle hands…). 

On Rogue, Garoutte crafted a bass part that he admits that he didn’t take enough time to learn to play all the way through well enough to record it, so he wrote out the part and sent it to Captein as a touch point for the song, with full license to change the part as he saw fit. “Dave is the most incredible sight reader I’ve ever come across on the bass, so I figured it wouldn’t be a great hardship to read it and it might save him some time.”

The “rough” track Garoutte got back was nearly perfect and so lives on in the recording.

That kind of spirit pervades the project. Top to bottom it bounces with crisp and inventive melodies, deftly executed rhythms and creative backing tracks, be they synth guitar or unique keyboard sounds. Garoutte is a masterful guitarist and a formidable bassist, and a bit of wizard at concocting joyful finished tracks all by himself from a disparate cache of digital files in a quarantined home studio. Leaning on talented friends to flesh out his ideas energized the tracks and helped polish them to a bright shine.

It might be easy for a project like this be overly indulgent. For Garoutte, it’s another jewel in a quiet career that deserves a far wider audience.

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