THE convergence of different elements of the jazz/rock/metal realm into this supergroup is actually a no-nonsense amalgamation of the spirit of Tony Williams, the late drummer who had a hand in every known pioneering work in the jazz-rock fusion extravaganza between the 1960s and 1970s, from Miles Davis to his own Lifetime unit.
Spectrum Road brings together a divergent four who pay homage to Williams. They are bassist Jack Bruce, keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana and guitarist Vernon Reid who rip into the heart of things from the moment they were unleashed, with Reid rolling back his Living Colour years into an awesome metal funk in ‘Vuelta Abajo’.
While the songs are culled from Williams’ Lifetime oeuvres, the delivery is a smashing smorgasbord of metal, bop, rock, and blues... all in the name of free spirited improvisation.
Everyone has practically equal space because everyone plays a lot at the same time — Reid’s electrifying metal is akin to a wild machine gun, Bruce’s electric bass is intensity personified, Blackman Santana is rhythmically indefatigable and Medeski brings elements of weirdness out of the organ, the same one that he showers in his famed trio, Medeski Martin & Wood (Check out Where for a transcendental trip into the unknown.
If you want lilting peace and tranquillity, you’ve landed on the wrong planet: jazz-rock boogie-woogie and soaring melodies Vashkar and Wild Life are a witches’ stew of beastly concoctions where wild guitars and drums clash harmoniously over a two-bar chord pattern.
A merciless break comes in the bluesy Blues for Tillmon, but only just, as the simmering lines will still mess with your sensibilities. If you haven’t been breathless all year long, this is the album that would love a smashing from your head.
ALL OVER THE PLACE
MY two favourite moments with Mike Stern: when he ripped the guts out of his electric guitar in Miles Davis’ sixth incarnation as jazz innovator in the late trumpeter’s 1981, We Want Miles live album, and his performance in Kuala Lumpur with Michael and Randy Brecker at the Hard Rock Cafe in 1993.
Over the years, Stern has produced albums of even keel that are pleasing, showcasing his formidable chops and character while lying deep in the fusion-world-cool idiom.
With this new effort, the music remains in familiar territory but what is unusual is his application of nine bassists: Esperanza Spalding, Richard Bona, Victor Wooten, Anthony Jackson, Dave Holland, Tom Kennedy, Will Lee and Victor Bailey, all great players in their own right.
Stern’s reputation is such that he could commandeer the lot into an eclectic candy shop of dashing tunes, while his style and groove oscillates between bebop, swing and rock. Strange that he didn’t rope in Marcus Miller, the bassist with whom he played together with Davies .
The key tune is AJ, the opening track with contrabass player Anthony Jackson. Stern’s blisteringly chiming guitar works well with Jackson’s muscular stabs.
Cameroon features Stern’s favourite wordless vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Richard Bona, who also pumps in bubbly bass lines in the same manner he coos in Pat Metheny Group’s concerts. Stern relies heavily on a chorus effect that arms his Yamaha axewhen he performs Out of the Blue with wife Leni Stern, who plays the rarely heard ngoni, a three-stringed Malian instrument.
PAT Metheny stamped his global fame as jazz-fusion’s top axemeister with the Pat Metheny Group that he co-fronts with keyboard sage, Lyle Mays. His caressing textures of melody, harmony, rhythm and distinctive tone have bewitched fans for three decades.
With this Unity band gig, this is the seventh year Metheny has continued shelving the group work (it must have been getting banal producing the same album over and over again) for more wondrous romps into self-exploration on quirky idioms, like his wacky take on Orchestrion, the album he produced playing all the instruments himself via mechanical gestures and manipulation.
But the organic textures so addictively instituted is still there. The lovely opener New Year is lovingly endowed in a fetching acoustic guitar intro which then is segued into the saxophone wail of Chris Potter’s tenor, a first since the late
Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman graced a Metheny effort in 1980/81 on the avant-garde ECM label.
Metheny is always a gracious host, always willing to break new talent. In this case Ben Williams, an upcoming acoustic bassist who holds together the textures in delicate balance as he bounces off Antonio Sanchez’s matchless subtleties on the traps.
The nine pieces Metheny flaunts harbours intentions of playfulness, all performed absorbingly and with a keen eye on melodic interplay. On second thoughts, given the amount of ornate offerings, call this Pat Metheny Group Mark II, with due respect to the absence of Mays and long-time bassist Steve Rodby.