|Voltumna [Slam Remix]||Luca Agnelli|
|Voltumna [Truncate Remix]||Luca Agnelli|
It only took guitarist Chris Poland a full decade to follow up his 1990 solo debut, Return to Metalopolis, with the arrival of 2000's Chasing the Sun. While the album contains quite a few traces of Poland's metal past (after all, he was the guitar player in Megadeth on such classic albums as 1985's Killing Is My Business...and Business Is Good! and 1986's Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?), Chasing the Sun turns out to be a mixed bag of tricks. Picture one of Joe Satriani or Steve Vai's early instrumental solo albums with a focus on jazzier sounds, and you're not far off from Chasing the Sun. Poland's fusion leanings shouldn't come as a surprise, though, as he's been vocal for years about how he was a jazzhead before joining forces with Dave Mustaine and company during the early '80s.
Right from the beginning, you know you're not in for your standard straight-ahead six-string shredfest, as the album-opening title title track takes an abrupt detour into trippy psychedelia. You'll also find funk sounds ("Hip Hop Karma"), fusion ("Robo Stomp"), King Crimson-like weirdness ("Straight Jacket"), and excursions into melodic territory ("Salvador"). Fans of early Megadeth expecting bone-crunching thrash metal may be let down, but for metalheads willing to open their minds a bit stylistically, Chasing the Sun will be a pleasant surprise -- and further proof that Chris Poland is one of hard rock's most underrated guitarists.
Early-'70s funkster Ceasar Frazier gets the funky two-fer treatment on this 1999 release from Eastbound.
When it came time for this talented, eclectic tenor man -- a native of Guadeloupe whose parents, both award-winning authors, are a black Guadeloupean mother and a Holocaust-surviving French Jewish father -- to record his solo projects, he had a wide variety of stylistic directions to choose from. He's been in many bands with jazz superstar Roy Hargrove, including Crisol, and his extensive touring with neo-soul god D'Angelo led him to work with David Gilmore and Me'Shell NdegéOcello. But rather than draw on these professional influences, Jacques Schwarz-Bart digs straight to his roots, blending the traditional gwoka rhythms of Guadeloupe with the jazz, gospel, and soul he absorbed during a lifetime spent everywhere from the Caribbean to Western Europe and the U.S. His tenor playing is inventive and colorful, his improvisations stellar throughout, and he blends beautifully with the dense African percussion, rolling rhythms, and light female and huskier male native choirs. The musician's intention, however, is to tell a rhythmic and melodic story of the history of many styles, fusing into a contemporary narrative in a wide array of moods and modes. The result is an exhilarating, hard to classify Afro-jazz delight that defies all genre specifics but fits cozily into both jazz and world music bins. His story begins with the infectious clapping rhythms of "Papale," built on the insistent war rhythm known as mende, with Schwarz-Bart's sizzling sax played with an otherworldly wah-wah pedal. It's an odd but enticing beginning because it's like no other sax sound you've ever heard. On the title track, he plays brightly textured horn lines over more clapping, subtle tribal vocals, and densely rhythmic acoustic guitar lines. The wistful "Love" shows off the more gentle side of Schwarz-Bart's artistry, as he combines woule rhythms with a wordless Brazilian vocal by Stephanie McKay and a graceful jazz piano solo by Milan Milanovic.
This sort of jazz-meets-African vibe, colored with unexpected exotic elements, runs all the way through the mix -- with a warm, tropical stop on the "Descent" -- to the unusually toned closer "Lewoz," an odd-metered track based on the rhythm of the dead that blends woodwind and trumpet in a dance simulating the interaction between heaven and earth.
As Schwarz-Bart follows his own multicultural muse, fans of progressive jazz and various world grooves will enjoy the journey the most.
After having a big hit record with Shannon, Lifesong/A&M gave Henry Gross an elaborate packaging with a slick cardboard inner sleeve to house the album, lyric sheet/facial photo inside, and a risqué LP cover featuring a naked woman under a sheet while Henry Gross gets his guitar and leaves her...for the stage.
The dorky John Denver-style image on his 1972 self-titled ABC release for Jimmy Miller Productions had a more humble and earthly feel but, despite the self-indulgence obvious just four years later, there is some strong pop here, showing the former Sha-Na-Na guitarist to be one of the best products from the stable of producers Cashman and West. That duo provide some backing vocals, but only put their production skills on an interesting cover of the Beatles' "Help." The rest of the project is on Gross' watch, and though there are deficiencies on side one, the album closes with a strong selection of summery numbers that are well-written and played. The title track begins the festivities with some fake applause and a riff borrowing from Loggins & Messina's 1972 hit "Your Mama Don't Dance." He doesn't borrow from Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina on "Painting My Love Song," though: he outright steals from their "Thinking of You" hit from 1973. The Bellamy Brothers' early-1976 record "Let Your Love Flow" gets nicked for both "Painting My Love Song" and "Come Along," while Carole King's "Sweet Seasons" also seems to slip in and out of the melody and sound. Side one really needed a cover song like "Help" to keep whatever listeners who loved "Shannon" tuned in.
Perhaps the philosophy expressed in that tune was in the back of his mind while trying to capitalize on his radio success. Gross does an admirable and slick job of crafting a more coherent and practical set of sounds on side two while mixing strong elements of a band he opened for, the Beach Boys, throughout. His voice, despite being quirky, is warm in that John Denver kind of way, and "What a Sound" certainly gives Brian Wilson his due. For those who felt the Beach Boys beautiful voices sometimes overshadowed and overpowered the pretty music, Gross emphasizes the band and lets the barbershop quartet blend in, pianos, drums, and guitars getting their place up in the mix. The harpsichord-type sounds envelope "I Can't Believe," while the singer nicely quiets down on "Hideaway" and "If We Tie Our Ships Together," though "Showboat" goes back to side one's blatant imitation of other artists, this time honoring or victimizing Seals & Crofts. Maybe that's something Henry Gross learned in Sha-Na-Na, but what eludes Show Me to the Stage is a powerful hit single, so you'll find no sequel to "Shannon" here.