Reviews in this issue:
- Interpose - Interpose
- Secret Saucer - Element 115
- Fusion for Miles: A Guitar Tribute
- Visions Of An Inner Mounting Apocalypse - A Fusion Guitar Tribute
- Yargos - To Be Or Not To Be
- Marc Rizzo - Colossal Myopia
- Jeff Urso - Straight Ahead
- Static - Patterns
- Secret Oyster – Astarte
Interpose - Interpose
Tracklist: Aircon (11:03), Dayflower (10:03), Zitensya (8:30), Koibumi (10:34), Last Sign (7:16)
I have been unable to find out much about Interpose apart from the minimal information sent by the record company, ie, they are a quintet from Japan, have played together off and on for almost twenty years and that this is their debut album! The quintet are Kenji Tanaka on guitars, Katsu Sato on drums and percussion, Toshiyuki Koike on bass, Ryuji Yonekura on keyboards and Sayuri Argua on vocals. Guesting on violin is the 'famous' (presumably in Japan anyway!) Akihisa Tsuboy. A pretty standard progressive rock line-up then, so far so good.
Aircon opens with a deep rumbling before a sedate rhythm is adopted with symphonic keyboards providing a backing to a sharp guitar solo, that oozes confidence and experience. Following this 90-second 'introduction' there is a slight left-field turn into a more jazzy vibe that introduces an understated melody. Gradually building the listener is drawn into the song and enmeshed into the interwoven instrumentation. The vocals start approximately halfway into the song and they are delightful. Although sung in Japanese, Aruga's voice is quite gorgeous, particularly when backed by Tsuboy's violin. The vocal melody is simply perfect. All in all a very strong opening number. Dayflower continues in a more ominous style with dark threatening piano chords underpinning some fine soloing from Tanaka and once again some fine singing. The second, instrumental, part of the song is rather more jaunty and dominated by keyboards that sustain the mood. The closing bars of acoustic guitar are a nice touch.
Zitensya reminds me somewhat of Echolyn, no bad thing when all is said and done. A rather quirkier instrumental number that edges into fusion territory at time. The start of Koibumi rings in the symphonic style again with some excellent playing and thoughtful arrangements while the acoustic vocal section bears vague resemblance to Renaissance. Final track Last Sign sprinkles a few jazzy guitar inflections over a more solid progressive bass. The musicians combine well on this number which displays the heaviest musical elements on the album culminating in an exciting final few minutes which, rather oddly, ends very abruptly.
Interpose have come up with a very mature album that skilfully blends rock solid melodies with artful arrangements and superb playing. Although I don't understand a word of the lyrics, I could sit and listen to the sublime voice of Sayuri Aruga all day. Overall a great album that in many ways defies genre classification.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Secret Saucer - Element 115
Tracklist: Star Rise (1:29), Sword Of Conneaut (6:49), Solar Winds (4:19), STS-107 (6:37), Atom Smasher (7:20), The Traveller (4:08), Duul (8:38), Desert Of Existence (6:10), Astral Progeny (4:06), Looking Skyward (6:31), AMBQSM (6:08), Beyond Time (8:11)
Ever been curious as to what would happen if a collection of the leading space rock musicians got together one weekend in a studio and just started jamming? Well you can find out on the CD Element 115 recorded in July 2001 by a collection of eight individuals going under the collective name of Secret Saucer. The musicians in question are Steve Taylor and Steve Hayes from Star Nation, Paul Williams and Jay Swanson from Quarkspace, Greg Kozlowski from Architectural Metaphor, Thomas Marianetti, Bill Spear and Dan Schnell from Sun Machine and Dave Hess from Blaah. The various musicians are also members of other groups such as Sun Machine, Nick Riff, Church Of Head, National Steam and Nebula Trip. A bewildering collection of bands that I suspect, like me, the majority of readers will be totally unaware of. However, the relative obscurity of these bands doesn't mean that the musicians are a collection of inexperienced amateurs. Far from him as the collective credits include performances and jam sessions with such luminaries as Hawkwind, Daevid Allen, Ozric Tentacles and Mr Quimby's Beard.
The performers on the individual tracks vary, with several of the musicians swapping instruments between tracks. This fluid approach to the instrumentation has transferred to the music which is itself fluid and means that, despite the 70 minute running time, never descends into monotony or overt replication. Yes, the music contains the inevitable cosmic and spacey synths, free-flowing guitars and even, on Desert Of Existence, glissando guitar that will have fans of the classic Steve Hillage / Gong albums sit up and smile, but there is more to this album than a lot of space rock instrumental collections. Into the mix is also blended elements of psychedelia, progressive rock and Krautrock. What is more, despite being jammed, none of the pieces degenerates into rambling chaos, the whole album having a cohesiveness that displays the inherent ability of the musicians.
Of course, similarities with the greats of the genre shine through, but this is always more of a homage than simply replicating what has gone before. And it not as if they are trying to hide the influences, as shown by Duul which takes as it template the instrumental meanderings of Amon Duul II but expands on the original design considerably. Elsewhere, the sounds of early Pink Floyd provide inspiration on Solar Winds (Echoes Part 2 anyone?!), and passages within Looking Skyward. Inevitably, there are nods in the general direction of Hawkwind, particularly on The Traveller (Tim Blake era), while the slight reggae vibe on Atom Smasher, amongst other aspects, provides links to Ozric Tentacles. Heck one can even trace elements of bands such as Hatfield And The North on the Fender Rhodes dominated STS-107. The Rhodes electric piano is also put to good use on Astral Progeny where it is effectively pitched against some fine slide guitar work by Kozlowski. Although synthesisers are employed liberally throughout the recordings, ferocious lead guitars are also prevalent on such pieces as Sword Of Conneaut, Atom Smasher, The Traveller and Beyond Time, the latter track making effective use of the twin guitars of Kozlowski (rhythm) and Taylor (lead) to end the CD on an effective and exciting high that inspires the listener to play it all again.
The Secret Saucer project, whatever its original aims were, has successfully managed to produce a very full album of interesting, thoughtful and stimulating music. The listener can get lost amongst the hypnotic grooves and wallow in the enjoyment that the ensemble of talented musicians obviously felt when unleashed and left to perform as their collective muse dictated. A fine album of enjoyable music free from any commercial pretensions and recommended to all your armchair astronauts out there.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Fusion for Miles: A Guitar Tribute
Tracklist: Black Satin (6:28), Splatch (5:05), Jean Pierre (6:23), So What (5:53), Nefertiti (5:41), Eighty One (6:09), Serpents Tooth (5:25), It’s About That Time (6:10), Back Seat Betty (6:29), Spanish Key (9:12)
I should confess at the start of this review that I am not the most ardent fusion fan in the world, and neither am I the most worshipful Miles Davis fan. But I do enjoy both the genre and the artist very well. I have several of the quintessential fusion CDs in my music collection (Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jaco, Blow By Blow, Stanley Clarke, Weather Report, In A Silent Way) but I’ve never been an absolute devotee of the style: sometimes there’s just too damn much wankery and often I hate the sound of the synthesizers. But, when it’s atmospheric, energized fusion, I tend to value it highly. Miles Davis is obviously a monolith amongst jazz musicians, and most of what I’ve heard from his output is genius and wizardry. I guess I’m not a significant fan of fusion or Miles Davis’ oeuvre only because I don’t spend a lot of time listening to either, but I’d still rank both as some of the better music experienced in my lifetime.
So, that said, I can’t really review Fusion for Miles - A Guitar Tribute for it’s fusion purity or its faithfulness (or even lack thereof) to Mr. Davis’ sonic imagination. I’ll tell you what I liked and why I thought that this was, in the end, a nifty effort.
It seems to me that the CD veers away from what I would consider hallmark fusion (a la The Inner Mounting Flame) into two polar opposites: either a rocking, guitar-gunslinging event or cool jazz (sometimes bordering almost on Gaucho-era jazz-lite). I didn’t mind this at all, to be honest, and thought it leant some balance to what could’ve been a boring exercise in tasteless showmanship.
When the dial flipped closer to a rock pulse, the selections were more potent and impressive, in my opinion. A few examples: The opening track, Black Satin, featuring Jimmy Herring on electric lead guitar, definitely harkens back to In A Silent Way but has a splash of R&B grit to it that you might not expect. Dave Liebman’s sax solo is sweet but I preferred Herring’s rips over the top of the rhythm section’s smooth but eerie groove. To a degree, this track is a blend of the Vai-Satriani (and Holdsworth?) guitar mentality of the 1980s bonded to a strong, well-studied fusion sensibility. No rocker-at-heart could dislike this track, even with its few touches of excess.
Splatch, featuring guitarist Jeff Richman, is another track that benefits from its rock leanings. It has a bit of a Steely Dan feel in spots and I loved the recurring guitar motifs. It’s good to hear the fusion style incorporate a fat, rock guitar tone: it’s a more ballsy sound and drives away any maestro pretentiousness. (I have to say that on these first two tracks, Black Satin and Splatch, bassist Alphonso Johnson is a shining star. He’s a busy player but his fills make sense and he performs a difficult task supporting these many-noted guitar workouts without creating a confused jumble.)
Guitarist Eric Johnson slows down to the blues on Jean Pierre. I loved the very proggy keyboard break in this song; it reminded me of early American arena-prog before it got too bloated, melodic and buoyant. I’ve said that I prefer the more rocking arrangements, but this song didn’t move me as I’m not at all a blues junkie. It just didn’t have enough of an exotic syncopation, maybe, although the playing was mean and vibrant at times.
There’s a sizable dose of the more restrained, smoky musical element on Fusion for Miles, too, which does make for a nice yin/yang juxtaposition against the more aggressive tracks.
So What, featuring Mike Stern, showcases a lilting, nicely flanged guitar over a swaggering but non-threatening streetbeat: it’s like the soft rustle of the neighbourhood seducer’s wallet chain. There’s too much scalar activity in the solos but it does highlight what all jazz genres are truly about: well-schooled musicianship. When the solo converts into wasp-sting runs, it’s got some poison juice and infects the rhythm section accordingly. I should also say that this track is indicative of something I appreciated throughout the disc: the use of subdued keyboard flavouring. No shrieking, no high-pitch runs, just light, half-spoonfuls of toppings to accent the guitar ice cream. Nefertiti is the spaciest tune on the CD; the opening is wonderfully alien and airy, maybe slightly like a more mellow Medeski, Martin and Wood. I might admire Bill Frisell’s playing more than anyone else’s on this disc: it’s sneaky and sinister but alluring (and maybe lives up to the title, eh, or at least the queen’s mythos?)
And, the track I was most interested to hear, as I’m a fair Allman Brothers fan, features guitarist Warren Haynes, who is just a juggernaut of soul (and that should be the title of his next album). Like Nefertiti, It’s About That Time is fluid, open, and resourceful in its guitar work. I loved the lack of straightforwardness in Mr. Haynes playing, and the bendedness and curves in his note selection, especially married to a snaky tone, drove the track. There was certainly a tip o’ the hat to the Allmans/Gov’t. Mule jam-banding style in the final section, but it was pretty crisp and more than tolerable.
The band most likely features an all-star cast…but I’m sad to admit that I only recognize Vinnie Colaiuta’s name from the list; sue me, I’m a Zappa man but only an inattentive jazz fan! (The remainder of the band, along with Colaiuta and the aforementioned Johnson on bass, are Larry Goldings on keyboards; Jeff Richman on guitar [who is also the musical arranger and producer for this set]; and Dave Liebman on sax.) The CD contains tracks featuring lead guitarists Bill Connors, Pat Martino, Steve Kimmock, and Bireli Lagrene. The playing is really outstanding in many places and certainly impressive and entertaining in others. I have no clue whether Fusion for Miles serves as an appropriate tribute to Mr. Davis’ musical vision and exploration, but everything sounds fine, so does it matter?
Who will enjoy this CD? Well, fusion fans who don’t turn the nose up at rock ‘n’ roll energy; open-minded jazz fans; any fan of stellar guitar technique and expression; and maybe the prog fan who has dabbled in the world of fusion and/or jazz occasionally. There isn’t anything here that I can’t recommend in some measure, and if you’re in the mood for it, Fusion for Miles is a fun jaunt down fusion guitar highway. Take a drive.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Visions Of An Inner Mounting Apocalypse -
A Fusion Guitar Tribute
Tracklist: Birds Of Fire (6:47), Can't Stand Your Funk (6:43), Celestial Terrestrial Commuters (4:46), Meeting Of The Spirits (6:51), Jazz (4:53), Dawn (6:34), Lila's Dance (5:22), Faith (5:47), Dance Of Maya (6:16), Follow Your Heart (7:46)
"A Fusion Guitar Tribute", to one of the genre's most notable guitar players, John McLaughlin. And more specifically his work with Mahavishnu Orchestra. The album covers a period just prior to the band forming through to the self titled Mahavishnu album from 1984. Unlike John who's review of the Fusion For Miles appears above, I'm an ardent jazz fusion fan and John McLaughlin ranks very highly on my list. Not that this makes me anymore qualified to write this review, merely a statement of fact.
Now I was a little hesitant when I first received this album, firstly as I'm not overly keen on "tribute albums" in general and secondly I thought this to be a bold undertaking. Wisely for this release "the band" are top notch with - this album was as likely to fail as it was to succeed with the musicians chosen to undertake the roles of such musical giants as Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer and Rick Laird. However in Vinnie Colauita they have a truly masterful drummer; Kai Eckhardt proves to be more than able to undertaken the bass role; Mitchell Foreman, who appeared on Mahavishnu's 1974 Adventures In Radioland, tackles the keyboard sections admirably; and with Jeff Richman's contributions not only on the guitar, but the production duties and the excellent and sympathetic arrangement of the pieces. So in these four guys, who coincidentally have all at some time worked with John McLaughlin, we really do have a band worthy of tackling the music of Mahavishnu. Just before moving on to the guitarist, it would be remiss of me to not mention original Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goldman who guests throughout the album (four tracks). He adds not only some truly wonderful solo passages, but also adds an authenticity to the proceedings.
So what of the guitarists - well some of the names will be more familiar than others perhaps - Steve Lukather (Toto), Steve Morse (Deep Purple/Dixie Dregs), Frank Gambale (Chick Corea), Mike Stern, however I found most of the contributions sympathetic to the pieces. Each player colouring their selected track with their own style, whilst still attempting to capture the spirit of McLaughlin. In fact the three aforementioned guitar players make valued contributions, Lukather is blistering, Morse - well, sounds like Morse playing McLaughlin, and Gambale is always a pleasure to listen to. However one shouldn't overlook Warren Haynes take on Lila's Dance or Mike Stern's interpretation of Can't Stand Your Funk.
Personal highlights - Jazz from the 1984 Mahavishnu album (actually I loved all that album - wish I could track down a copy of it on CD - help anyone?). A great syncopated, airy, track with nice themes woven in and out, nice brassy keyboard punctuation and a cool solo from Jeff Richman. Great also to hear Jerry Goodman, always an integral part of the Mahavishnu sound - and interesting to hear his takes on Jean Luc Ponty's parts. But as an ardent fan of Mahavishnu it's pretty difficult to single out any track that didn't particularly work, a testament to the original writing. This said the guitar performances in the latter part of the album didn't work quite as well for me, with the exception of Follow Your Heart which concludes this release. The track itself pre-dates the Mahavishnu Orchestra project. John Abercrombie is restrained a tasteful, great bass solo from Kai Eckhardt - a nice ending to a splendid release.
Before concluding this review, mention of the core musicians who make this disc such a pleasurable experience. Colaiuta has established himself in the upper echelons of drummers, and is a man in demand. His playing hear can only confirm why this is so. Session man Kai Eckhardt like Rick Laird is the unsung hero of the Mahavishnu music, however both are so integral, it's impossible to imagine the track's without their input. Mitchell Foreman - just incredible, worth buying the disc just to hear him. Did I mention Jerry Goodman - I'm sure I did - certainly he has lost none of his touch and breathes new life into his and Ponty's parts on this release.
So if you want to know what great jazz fusion sounds like, or just curious as to the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra then this might well be as good a place to start. You may well ask, why don't I just buy one of Mahavishnu's albums? (Don't let me stop you). However what this release does offer you is the opportunity to checkout ten great guitarist, (John Abercrombie, Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, Mike Stern, Steve Lukather, Steve Morse, Greg Howe, Frank Gambale, Jeff Richman and Dave Fiuczynski), all in one go - which is nice. Hopefully you'll be inspired to go on buy some of John McLaughlin's back catalogue. I can also recommend this as a worthy tribute to those who have the original albums - the arrangements are faithful enough to the originals, but with more than enough variation to warrant checking out.
As is the norm with recent Mascot Record releases the CD is nicely presented in gatefold format and with this release the cover artwork indicative of the original. This tribute is tastefully executed, offering much to the "old school" Mahavishnu listener, as well as an interesting appetiser to the new or curious. The recording obviously benefits from modern technology and therefore has a crispness not possible some 35 years ago... Give it a whirl.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Yargos - To Be Or Not To Be
Tracklist: The Guilded Cage (5:46), Why? (3:41), Peace Of Mind (5:33), Point Of No Return (5:05), A Time To Decide (5:20), Pink Confusion (1:27), Human Nature (4:44), Time Drops (3:51), The Summer Tree (4:44), Full Circle (4:22), Sometimes It Is Easier (3:31), Turn Away (6:27)
Bonus track The Summer Tree Alive [Beat The Big Break] (7.30)
Billed by the label as 'a projekt from the Threshold vocalist Andrew (Mac) McDermott', this, as far as I can make out, is the first album to appear under the Yargos name. Led by composer and guitarist/keyboardist Weiland Hofmeister, the 'band' also has as its core, Ossy Pfeiffer (piano/keys/drums) and vocalist Anca Graterol. The latter pair, via their Frida Park Studio, are leading lights in the Hanover music scene, where they have completed production duties for such names as MSG, The Sweet and Rough Silk.
The link which appears to have persuaded Mac to take a leading role in this 'projekt', appears to be the fact that Anca, has for a while, been his vocal coach.
In order to add a couple more well-known names to that little label on the front of the CD case, the band also enlisted the help of Running Wild bassist Peter Pichl and Human Fortress' guitarist Andi Kienitz.
Now, the label is calling this 'prog-rock'. No way chums! This is more along the lines of melodic heavy rock with some clear progressive elements brought into the longer instrumental sections. If you look at some of the other bands on the AFM label, then you could call it a progressive Shakra, or Masterplan without the heavy metal umph. Certainly far removed from Threshold or Marillion.
Generally, the songs possess some great melodies backed by driving guitars and keys. Why is an obvious opening single; The Guilded Cage is a solid opening rocker and Human Nature is my favourite track, for the way in which it mixes progmetal and melodic rock to great effect. There are also a few stinkers: The Summer Tree and Full Circle are just not very good songs at all.
This is also billed as a concept album, albeit of the type where all the songs stand on their own two feet. There seems to be a lyrical thread that ties them all together, but there's no explanation on the band or the label website, nothing in the press blurb, and no lyric sheet either. So your guess from the song titles, is as good as mine.
I barely need to say it, but Mac carries the songs with a great, gutsy vocal performance - although personally I'm not too keen on the songs which feature his vocal coach.
Where this album loses it for me, is in the instrumentation. I can't quite put my finger on why, but it all seems a bit disjointed. Firstly, there are frequent passages where the keys, the guitars and rhythm section all seem to be playing with different textures and rhythms. Secondly, there are frequent passages where the instruments are creating a different mood/pace/rhythm than the vocals. It's hard to put into words, but if you listen to a Threshold album, although the music is constantly progressing, each song has common motifs, and every section flows seamlessly into the next. Too often on this record, the elements just conflict. As a result, I find it very hard - and rather frustrating - to listen too.
Anyway, if you're a fan of Mr McDermott, a Threshold completist, or if your ears fix purely on the melodies of a song, then this will have something to offer. I will probably transfer three or four songs onto my MP3 player, but the remainder are unlikely to ever be played again.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Marc Rizzo – Colossal Myopia
Tracklist: Kilocycle Interval (5:59), Introspection Of An Introvert (6:45), Remember The Future (5:12), Colossal Myopia (4:14), Infinity (2:50), S.P.Q.R. (6:27), Synapse (4:32), Pantheistic Utopia (5:35), Isosceles (6:36), The Pinata Hits Back (7:13), Chupacabra (3:30), Milagro (5:12)
I often think this but should say it more frequently: it’s a privilege to review many of the albums we receive at DPRP. An artist entrusts his or her work to the ears and brain of an unknown reviewer – and that’s a significant amount of trust. A large part of a reviewer’s duty is to be equal to that trust, and it must be said that some artists make it easier than others for us to do so. Marc Rizzo is one such artist. He’s created a first-rate work of instrumental guitar art, and, I’ll repeat, it’s a privilege for me to review it.
Rizzo is already well known in certain circles; he was a founding member of the respected metal band Il Nino and has played alongside Max Cavelera on the last two Soulfly albums. The latter fact alone speaks loudly of Rizzo’s talent: not just anybody could, or would be asked to, work with the semi-legendary Cavalera, himself a co-founder of the mighty thrash band Sepultura and originator of the groundbreaking “world metal” band, for lack of a better term, Soulfly. But Rizzo needs no credentials other than his new album Colossal Myopia. Any fan of instrumental music in any genre should, within the first minute of the first track of this album, realize that he or she is in the presence of a master.
What does it take to sustain an hour-long instrumental guitar album – or, more precisely, to make it something other than a treat for other guitar players, a textbook or a master-class lesson? Well, it takes many talents, but predominantly it takes excellent, varied songs and – more rarely – the ability to perform in a variety of styles. This record, I’ll begin by saying, is half shred and half flamenco – how’s that for a variety of styles? The “half” is only a rough measure, and I don’t want you to think that it’s a simple matter of following a thrash tune with a flamenco (or classical or steel-string) song just for the sake of mixing things up. What Rizzo has done is to construct his album in such a way that each song ends leaving the listener wanting more of the same – but each subsequent song begins by giving him or her something completely different yet equally satisfying. The blistering opener Kilocycle Interval, for example, is followed by the something-like-Methenyish Introspection Of An Introvert, a lovely steel-string workout; that one in turn is succeeded by Remember the Future, a song that combines thrash sections with steel-string sections, but not at all self-consciously or for the sake of demonstrating virtuosity (of which there’s nonetheless no shortage!): it all works together as a fine, interesting song.
I ought to pick out some outstanding tracks, but in the case of this album, that task needs to be left up to each listener’s taste. Because I prefer heavy to light in general, I’m going to single out the punishing S.P.Q.R.; Isosceles, which begins with riffs and soloing that remind me of Mustaine and Friedman from the good old days of Megadeth but which relents midway for a delightful, calm, almost jazzy interlude; the goofily schizoid Milagro, which finds Rizzo playing thrash on both electric and steel-string (just listen!); and, again, that opening track, Kilocycle Interval, the one that alerts the listener to the treats in store on this album.
Rizzo is such a superb musician himself that it’s too easy to ignore the fine backing instrumentalists, but they really deserve mention: bassist Ben Wright, drummer Teddy Gibbons, and percussionist Roger Vasquez, who is, I assume, responsible for the astonishing range of shakers and bongos and whatever that Rizzo employs liberally in the songs where he’s not thrashing us to the ground. Nothing better, in my opinion, can be said about any band than that each member plays exactly what’s needed and that each member makes each other member sound good – and that’s the case here.
And I have to say just a quick word about the titles of the compositions. I mean, it’s an instrumental album – Rizzo could have gotten away with calling the pieces “Song #1,” “Song #2,” and so on. But the titles are incomparably inventive – they’re fun just to read, and it’s even more fun to listen to each song and see if the music bears out the promise of a title like, for example, Pantheistic Utopia or Colossal Myopia or (my favourite) The Pinata Hits Back. I may be imagining things, but, more often than not, I think the music does illustrate the titles – or maybe it’s vice versa.
Why go on? You need to get this album. It’s far and away the best instrumental album I’ve heard in 2005 and will likely end up on my top-ten list of albums of all kinds for the year, as well. Anyone who likes any kind of good music should like this one – and that’s not something I can often say.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Jeff Urso - Straight Ahead
Tracklist: Straight Ahead (3:07), Feel Good (3:25), Rhythmic Wave (3:52), Low Down (2:45), Down & Dirty (3:29), Warm Day (4:00), Cyber Me (4:46), Perfect (3:57), Thinking Of You (3:05), I Alive (1:54)
As a true guitar aficionado I loved this album already when I heard it for the first time. In my rock collection you can find a couple of 80s instrumental guitar albums, ranging from Greg Howe, Vinnie Moore, Tony MacAlpine, Marty Friedman to Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Neil Zaza. Especially those last two belong to the main musical influences of Jeff Urso on his debut CD called Straight Ahead.
Urso is from Chicago and after playing with many different bands he decided that the only way he could express himself was by making a solo album. Urso’s debut is a sheer beauty filled with nine guitar instrumentals, which show that he is not only an amazing guitar picker, but also a brilliant composer. Jeff has a predilection for melody, which you can truly enjoy during songs like Perfect or Thinking Of You. Both songs are filled with mind-boggling solos that give me goosebumps every time I listen to them.
Other highlights on this amazing album are Warm Day; a song with a true Satch-like vibe and the title reflects the absolute brilliant melody. Rhythmic Wave, again very Satriani-like sounding, features a rather funky rhythm and some really awesome guitar shredding. Feel Good is packed with astonishing solos and lots of melodic and spicy parts, which make me, feel very good actually. It is a shame that Jeff decided to end this CD with the rather poor piano (where is the freaking guitar??) “song” called I Alive, otherwise I would have granted Mr Urso with a perfect 10. Jeff Urso is however a true talent worth keeping an ear out for.
A must for guitar lovers!!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Static - Patterns
Tracklist: Ghost Companion (3:37), 52 Pickup (4:21), Crimson (6:27), Uptown (4:01), Mesopotamia (6:43), Chicken Fingers (4:52), Test Flight Pattern (6:20), Shade (6:23)
Patterns is the self released debut album, produced and performed by guitarist Mike Fortin and drummer David Penna, collectively under the name of Static. They are aided and abetted here with contributions from both Rob Epstein (keyboards & bass) and Fabrice Francese (bass). The album is an instrumental offering within the areas of progressive metal, guitar fusion and sees Mike Fortin utilising his full armoury of guitar shredding techniques over the imaginative drumming of David Penna. Grinding metallic rhythms are employed extensively throughout the album, however a keen sense of melody and dynamic structuring prevails, giving the tracks the necessary "hooks" required to hold the listeners attention. A listen through the opening track Ghost Companion should either confirm or dispel whether this album (and therefore this review) will be one for you.
Mike Fortin proves to be an excellent player, not all "million mile an hour" shredding and sweeping, but tastefully executed legato sections, interesting rhythmic riffs and chordal patterns go to make up tracks on Patterns. A new name to me and the only info I have on him is that he is currently based in New York and prior to this release gigged and recorded with Strange Embrace, following which he then recorded under the name of Sonic Texture. David Penna on the other hand is slightly more known to me as he featured on the Rewired - A Tribute To Jeff Beck album from 2003, guesting with Fabrice Francese on Steve Booke's contributions. The following year he appeared again, this time on the totally insane but extremely enjoyable Ink Compatible from Ron Jarzombek. At that time I made note of the contribution David made to Words For Nerds - rhythmically possibly the trickiest piece on that album.
And much credit must be afforded to David Penna who raises the ante here on Patterns. In the somewhat saturated market of guitar instrumentals albums, his drumming is both solid and imaginative - lifting the music and giving the album greater variation, whilst still providing a solid backbone to the tracks. No better illustrated than on the albums standout track Shade - light and shade from the guitars, gliding fretless bass, nice touches from the keyboards and David nicely punctuating this ebbing and flowing piece. But along with this track are other notable pieces, the aforementioned Ghost Companion, the Frippy opening to Crimson (or am I just making an association), which veers off into a more metallic territory, never to return; then of course there's Uptown - driving rhythms, harmonised guitar but with the keyboards adding a nice jazzy feel.
I could go on, however should you have not skipped on with my descriptive - "progressive metal, guitar fusion" - and remained with this review, then I can assure you that Patterns has much to offer. Do yourself a favour and check out the soundfiles on David's site and also at Guitar Nine.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Secret Oyster – Astarte
Tracklist: Intro (2:10), Stjernierne Pa Garden (5:41), Sirenerne (5:03), Astarte (6:28), Solitude (4:07), Tango Bourgoise (2:47), BelleVue (3:20), Valse Du Soir (1:56), Outro (5:06), Bonus Tracks : Sleep Music (6:12) Circus Sax (4:42) Intro To Act ii (0:50)
Secret Oyster was Denmark’s finest Fusion band of the 1970’s, a semi-super group featuring former members of Burnin’ Red Ivanhoe, and Hurdy Gurdy amongst others. Their catalogue of four albums is long overdue for CD reissue, and American Prog label The Laser's Edge are now promising to do just that, starting with their third album from 1975.
Originally released in the U.S.A. as Astarte, Vidunderlige Kaelling is the soundtrack to an erotic ballet (hence the rather spurious cover – the least said about which the better!). As such, it is perhaps not the best place to start an acquaintance with the band - for that I’d recommend waiting for the reissue of the superb Sea Son. Once that has worked its magic on you, you may well want to explore this disc.
It is a somewhat patchy affair, with some of the shorter moody pieces perhaps needing to be experienced with the Ballet for full effect, but it does contain some smoking fusion workouts. Sirenerne for example builds from a hypnotic electric piano beginning into a funk-fuelled blow-out – with plenty of room for Karsten Vogel to flex his chops on assorted saxes. Regular readers of this site may recognise Mr Vogel from his involvement with Robin Taylor on his Taylor’s Universe albums. Vogel’s playing here is, as usual, exemplary.
Astarte spices things up with the addition of sitar and is another whirling dervish of a tune. Throughout the disc, one can pick up flashes of Soft Machine circa Softs, Nucleus and perhaps traces of American fusioneers Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report. With minimalist piano mood pieces like Solitude sharing disc space with the crazy Tango Bourgoise, this is a somewhat schizophrenic disc but contains enough great smoking, jazz fusion like the aforementioned Sirenerne and Bellevue (containing some great funky riffing from guitarist Claus Bohling, alongside assorted monkey noises!) to make this a worthwhile purchase for fusion buffs. It will certainly do until the magnificent Sea Son is reissued. I am also looking forward to the reissues of Secret Oyster (aka Furtive Pearl) and Straight To The Krankenhaus discs as I have not yet managed to hear those.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10