As the Baked Potato steams toward its massive 40th anniversary jazz festival next weekend, there was something perfect about East Coast guitarist Dave Fiuczynski's performance Thursday night.
Revered as a home for musicians' musicians and those who love them, the Baked Potato is a cramped, warm little clubhouse hugging the 101 Freeway between Studio City and Hollywood, the sort of place where crinkled posters of musicians great (Larry Carlton) and obscure (Damn the Machine) frame a small performance space where the genre-blind lessons in progressive rock and jazz fusion from Miles Davis' electric period and the Mahavishnu Orchestra often rule the day.
Welcoming the room to an evening of eastern Exotica groove-jams," Fiuczynski (pronounced Few-zhinsky, or Fuze" for short) is the sort of wildly gifted guitarist right in the Baked Potato's wheelhouse. Leader of cultish prog-jazz group the Screaming Headless Torsos, Fiuczynski is a professor at Boston's Berklee College of Music and has performed with a host of experimental-minded musicians, including Stewart Copeland and keyboardist John Medeski, who teamed with Fiuczynski on the aggressively adventurous 1994 album Lunar Crush."
Armed with a glistening double-necked guitar (one of which was seven- stringed, the other 12-stringed and fretless, thank you very much), Fiuczynski led a trio though a battery of hard-hitting instrumentals that spanned the worlds of blues, funk, jazz and rock. Using the fretless neck of his guitar to glide through a tone resembling a pedal steel, Fiuczynski honored one of his influences with a smoking take on John McLaughlin's Birds of Fire," while the recently released original Habibi" showed a more contemplative side that also dipped into lightning-quick metallic runs.
While virtuosity for virtuosity's sake can get overwhelming, Fiuczynski always left room for flesh and blood in his playing, most notably on a thickly funky cover of Eddie Harris' Freedom Jazz Dance" that also featured young drummer Alex Biscuit" Bailey on a mind- bending solo that ignited the room with an avalanche of kickdrum triplets and cymbal crashes.
Though surely weighed down by more than a few of the club's signature, football-sized stuffed potatoes, the crowd went right along with the trio at every virtuosic turn, showing as little regard for genre boundaries and limits as the club itself.