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Taken from Something Else! (Jun 28, 2024)

Steve Hackett, Trevor Rabin, Reza Khan + Others: Dazzling New Guitar Music

With the constant influx of new music, it's too easy to overlook things. Here are some recordings from six-string masters that shouldn't have been missed.

by Ross Boissoneau

UL-FL2R: Steve Hackett, Trevor Rabin, Reza Khan
LL-FL2R: Jim Josselyn, Chieli Minucci, Alex Skolnick

REZA KHAN - MYSTICAL (JAZZ): Soulful and melodic, Mystical refutes the notion that smooth jazz is nothing more than elevator music. While much - most - of the recording could indeed be called smooth, it is never boring. The insistent melodies and the leader's guitar set it apart from those that might best serve as background music. The Rhodes piano of Jeff Lorber - one of several special guests - and the leader's sweet guitar tone on the opening "Falcon" place it squarely in the contemporary jazz pantheon. The title track is one of several that features producer David Mann, who previously worked with Khan (and a thousand others), while "Language of Love" brings aboard Bob James. James is at his empathetic best, adding finishing piano licks to Reza Khan's guitar in the midst of popping bass, before both take relaxed, enjoyable solos. It's tempting to call it the best track on the recording, but there are many that could deserve that designation. Khan wrote for James, Lorber and other guests, including Keiko Matsui, Mark Egan and Philippe Saisse, and he chose well. They all complement his guitar, and he does the same.

TREVOR RABIN - RIO (ROCK): Rio was released in fall 2023, but it still didn't take as long to get to this review as it did for Rabin to create the recording. It's his first solo rock record with vocals since 1989, and follows stints scoring films and touring with ex-Yes mates Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. Rio is all over the place musically, with Rabin on all guitars, basses, keyboards and vocals, mandolin, dobro, even some of the drums. "Big Mistakes" opens with big drums and big guitars. Apart from lacking Anderson's vocals, it could be an outtake from his last album with Yes, Talk. "Oklahoma" is an acoustic workout, with multiple guitars and twang never expected from Rabin. Following is "Paradise," with its arena-esque guitars and - vocoder vocals? Yep, before it then takes another left turn into melodic rock with electric-acoustic guitars, wandering back into the big sound exemplified by Styx, among others. Overall a welcome return to form.

JIM JOSSELYN - SHAPESHIFTING (JAZZ): Gently swinging guitar from Jim Josselyn, who also penned the six originals, plus a take on John Coltrane's "Equinox." Josselyn's guitar tone and the pairing with Brian Charette's luminous organ could be from the heart of the CTI sound in the early '70s, but it has a modern feel thanks in part to the punchy horns. The leader's guitar is the most prominent voice, but he provides plenty of space for the others. Charette is a formidable soloist, but perhaps more interesting is how his organ is always lurking in the background. All three horn players contribute, though it's the trumpet of King James Gibbs that really stands out. Not to forget the tasty drums from Noel Sagermans. The title track is the most spirited, with Josselyn's guitar break out front, while the organ holds things together for the solos.

STEVE HACKETT - THE CIRCUS AND THE NIGHTWHALE (ROCK): By now it seems almost pandering to describe Steve Hackett as the ex-Genesis guitarist, given that he left the band back in 1977 and has since released some 30 solo albums, plus almost two dozen live recordings. But he's kept the Genesis flame burning bright, touring as Genesis Revisited for the last decade. Stylistically, this recording doesn't really break any new ground, it's just another fine disc in the tradition of The Night Siren and Surrender of Silence. But that sounds like damning with faint praise. The truth is Hackett's never sounded better - it's just that he's been so consistently good for so long it's easy to brush it aside.

Hackett has called this recording a concept album that is somewhat autobiographical, with the character of Travla experiencing a variety of life's pleasures and travails. The lyrics are somewhat abstract and metaphorical, and it's easy to enjoy the individual tracks without worrying about following a story. He's brought with him the usual suspects, from Rob Townsend, sister-in-law Amanda Lehman and Jonas Reingold to Nad Sylvan, Craig Blundell and, as always, Roger King (keyboards, programming and orchestral arrangements), along with Malik Mansurov on tar and his brother John Hackett. Steve Hackett's prowess is consistently on display, and the songwriting showcases varied styles, from metallic outings to some actual circus sounds balanced against orchestra as we "Enter the Ring."

SPECIAL EFX - RETURN TO BUDAPEST WITH LOVE (JAZZ): We didn't miss this one - Special EFX did. This live set from 1982 was only recently released. It captures the magic of Chieli Minucci's guitar and the late Jorge Jinda's percussion while on tour with Special EFX bandmates Lionel Cordew (drums) and Gerald Veasley (bass) and Jinda's frequent writing partner Bela "Szakcsi" Lakatos on keyboards - Lakatos's first time performing onstage with the band. Both Jinda and Lakatos have passed away, leaving this document as testament to their music. Actually, "document" makes Return to Budapest With Love sound too scholarly and didactic, and while it's mellow throughout, there are plenty of spirited moments, from Minucci's propulsive guitar on "Slice of Life" to Lakatos's piano and subsequent duet with Minucci on "Chance Encounter."

"Sabariah" may be the most engaging melody, before it breaks into a synth showcase with the popping rhythm section eventually settling into a more subdued groove. "Sabariah" gives Jinda a chance to show off on various tuned drums before Minucci takes the spotlight, Jinda's shakers providing the background. Today, Minucci performs and records as Chieli Minucci and Special EFX or Special EFX All-Stars. As a document (there's that word again) of where Jinda, Minucci and company were lo these many years ago, Return to Budapest With Love does show the love they had for the music, which was reciprocated by the appreciative audience.

PAKT - NO STEPS LEFT TO TRACE (JAZZ): Here's a guitar album like no other. The otherworldly sounds of Tim Motzer and Alex Skolnick are balanced by the onetime Brand X rhythm section of Kenny Grohowski and all-world bassist Percy Jones. But balanced doesn't mean kept in check. Indeed, Skolnick and Motzer are exploring territory far from the typical jazz or rock axe-slinger. There's not a lot in the way of melody to grab onto, or even riffs. Those hoping for something resembling the fiery fusion of Brand X may be mystified. No Steps Left to Trace is music for the adventurous, not the faint of heart. Motzer's haunting electronics waaaaaay in the background offset Skolnick's guitar and Jones's throbbing bass on "No Step Left To Trace (Part 2)," while later the two guitarists trade licks. But this is no bluesy breakdown or fusion shred attack. Nor is it dreamy ambience - these guys, including Grohowski, are fired up. It's just hard to pin down where they're going, or even where they are. Surely that's the point.




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