Friday, August 12, 2011

Alex Skolnick Trio Releases 'Bollywood Jam' Video

Alex Skolnick Trio have just released the official music video for the song "Bollywood Jam" off of their latest album Veritas. The song in itself captures the vibe of its title very well, but this video gives it a whole another dimension and presents the concept visually. Besides the trio, the video features three belly-dancers named Erica, Tava and Kazja, who successfully bring forth the Bollywood aspect. The video is very elegantly and aesthetically done, and it's something not only every AST fan will enjoy, but is sure to go down well with jazz fans in general. I look forward to see if the band will present more songs from the album in the form of music videos in the near future, but until then, this will most certainly do. Check out the video below.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rodrigo y Gabriela: re-Foc (Album Review)

Released: Sometime in 2002
Reviewed: August 2nd, 2011
Label: Rubyworks

Rating: 9.5/10

Track Listing:
1. Diem
2. New One
3. Foc
4. Georges Street - The Tartar Frigate
5. 30 de Marzo
6. Paris
7. Take Five
8. Temple Bar

Even though the duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela is perhaps not defined as 'jazz' in the strictest sense of the word, their music is a fusion of a wide variety of styles and I feel it has an element of jazz. It certainly carries the same soothing vibe that characterizes jazz music. It comes as no surprise to me that the duo often participates in jazz festivals, like their appearance in the Nice Jazz Festival in Portland last year. Over the course of their short but much celebrated musical career, they have collaborated with jazz aficionados like Alex Skolnick, and their music often exudes a very recognizable Al Di Meola influence. Hence I found enough reason to write about them in this blog. I start with their re-Foc album, which was technically their second album but it was really the first album that was easily accessible to everyone.

The album starts off with "Diem", a tune decorated with brilliantly crafted acoustic guitar segments of varying speeds along with the violin which provides the smooth touch, if you can call it that. Besides being terrific musicians, Rodrigo and Gabriela are also huge fans of music themselves, and they often dedicate their tunes to some of their favorite musicians, Dave Mustaine in the case of Diem. The following tune "New One" is slow in tempo, giving you ample chance to absorb and savor the incredible melody of the acoustic guitars. The layer of vocals and violin on top of the guitars makes the tune even more powerful than it already is. "Foc" brings back the speedy Di Meola-esque style of musicianship that was evident in the opening track, and by the time I was done listening to the 5 minutes and 40 seconds of this tune, I was gasping for air, such is the breathtaking splendor this tune possesses.

"Georges Street - The Tartar Frigate" has a more prominent violin sound, even though the acoustic guitars are in full flow as usual. The interplay between the guitars and violin is just beautiful. It's followed by "30 de Marzo", a slow, soft and melancholic tune that perhaps serves as the breaking point of the album. These incredibly powerful 4 minutes lead into "Paris" which comes across as a complete contrast. The interlude contains a small portion of "Blitzkrieg", a song originally written by a band of the same name, covered years later by Metallica. "Take Five" follows, the longest tune on the album and certainly the most enjoyable one as well. This is another tune with a reference to Metallica, as it contains an excerpt from the song "One". The tune carries forward with a brilliant build-up to the One interlude which then leads into a delightful final segment. "Temple Bar" brings the album to an end. It's a very interesting tune in terms of its composition, as it alternates between full-sounding passages, those that consist of nothing but a single layer of guitar, and others with only percussion. It breaks the tune into several segments and I would very much like to see this played live, as it should turn out to be a great live tune.

Overall, this album proves the sheer brilliance the duo possess in their musicianship. If acoustic guitar-oriented music is something you enjoy, you shouldn't look past Rodrigo y Gabriela's re-Foc.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Al Di Meola: Elegant Gypsy (Vinyl Review)

Released: Sometime in 1977
Reviewed: August 1st 2011
Label: Columbia

Side 1:
1. Flight Over Rio
2. Midnight Tango
3. Mediterranean Sundance

Side 2:
1. Race With Devil On Spanish Highway
2. Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil
3. Elegant Gypsy Suite

My rating: 10/10

After falling in love with jazz legend Al Di Meola's debut album "Land Of The Midnight Sun", it was only appropriate that I gave his second album a listen. Thanks to Amoeba, the record store that never ceases to amaze me, I got myself a copy of it on vinyl for a mere 4 dollars. I found the vinyl in absolutely pristine and flawless condition, and I can safely say I can't think of anything better to spend 4 dollars on.

But even before I took out the disc and started listening to the music itself, it was a purely delightful moment for me just to feel the smell of a record that's several years old, and to hold the artwork in my hand. It's a piece of art that does complete justice to the album title and even though the front cover is nothing short of amazing, the picture on the back is the real gem, beautiful to say the least. This is one reason why I have gravitated towards vinyl, due to the sheer joy of being able to appreciate cover artwork as actual works of art, being able to see the details the artist wants me to see, on a piece of cardboard that's 9 times the size of a CD cover.

Moving on to the music, "Flight Over Rio" gives the album a magical start with a haunting yet peaceful and soothing beginning which then leads into the speedy latin jazz style of music that can be heard in plenty on the debut album. It's a very dynamic sort of tune, one that clearly indicates the musical progression Di Meola made from the first album to this one. This 7-minute bonanza gives way to the next track "Midnight Tango", one the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever come across. Devin Townsend's acoustic performance at this year's NAMM left me hypnotized, and listening to this tune for the first time was another experience of a similar kind. I never imagined the clean electric guitar sound to be as powerful as this, and to put it mildly, listening to this guy make the guitar talk is quite an overwhelming experience. Side 1 ends with "Mediterranean Sundance", which sounds exactly like its title suggests and turns out to be a brilliant exhibition of flamenco guitar played at lightning pace for major portions of the tune, backed by Paco de Lucia's acoustic guitar as he adds another layer to an already breathtaking composition.

"Race With Devil On Spanish Highway" starts off Side 2 and straightaway offers something different from the tracks on Side 1, presenting a sound that's bass-heavy to begin with. In fact it's the interplay between the bass and guitar that makes this tune stand out on its own. You could listen to this song countless number of times and I can assure you that you'll be amazed every single time. It leads into the next tune "Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil", a title which aptly captures the Latin essence that's exuded by its music. The most amazing thing is the manner in which Di Meola presents the speed in his guitar play even in tunes like this where the overall rhythm is either very down-tempo or doesn't exist at all. It takes a musician of his calibre to make tunes that sound rhythmical even without much of a rhythm section. The album closes out with the Elegant Gypsy Suite, quite simply a masterpiece that can only be listened to and not described in words, so I'll leave it at that.

Overall, Di Meola certainly took his music to the next level with this album as compared to his debut, and emphatically so. Now I am even more interested in checking out his third studio album to find out where the music takes me.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Al Di Meola: Land Of The Midnight Sun (Vinyl Review)

Released: October 25th, 1976
Reviewed: July 29th, 2011
Record Label: Columbia

My rating: 10/10

Track Listing:

1. The Wizard
2. Land Of The Midnight Sun
3. Sarabande From Violin Sonata In B Minor
4. Love Theme From Pictures Of The Sea
5. Suite Golden Dawn:
    Morning Fire
    Calmer Of The Tempests
    From Ocean To The Clouds
6. Short Tales Of The Black Forest

Al Di Meola is undoubtedly a legendary musician, and despite the fact that I have devoted the best part of the last seven years of my life listening to heavy metal, I often came across his name, hearing and reading about how great and influential he has been, not only to jazz musicians but to musicians across the board. And when Glen Drover included a great rendition of Al Di Meola's "Egyptian Danza" in his solo debut "Metalusion" this year, it only succeeded in further piquing my interest. Other than that cover, I had honestly never heard his music. But now that I've decided to delve into the wonderful world of jazz, the first artist I'm laying focus on is none other than Di Meola. I wanted to start right from the beginning, so I paid a visit to Amoeba yesterday to pick up his debut album on vinyl. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation in me as I held that huge piece of artwork, took out the vinyl, placed it on my turntable and started listening to it.

"The Wizard" gives the album a very Latin start. Di Meola's guitar, synth and percussion combine together to create insane harmonies, as the song makes a journey through multiple tempo shifts. The tune is nothing short of mind-blowing, and makes a long-lasting impact on the listener's mind straightaway. The sheer range of Di Meola's musical abilities is quite evident even in these mere 6 and a half minutes. The title song keeps a similar style going, but in the process it provides yet more delightful musical passages that vary from each other but are brilliantly arranged together to somehow make the tune sound like a cohesive unit. The bass sound is also quite a lot more prominent in this one as compared to the opening track. The song is over 9 minutes long, but I have come across countless number of songs that are of equal or longer duration, and don't even come close to being as musically rich as this one.

A short acoustic guitar piece titled "Sarabande From Violin Sonata In B Minor" comes next. There is nothing quite as mentally liberating as the pristine sound of an acoustic guitar, and when it's being played by someone like Di Meola, it's even better. So needless to say, I'm glad that the album includes an acoustic guitar piece by itself. This is followed by another soft little piece of music titled "Love Theme From Pictures Of The Sea". Besides the sounds of the acoustic guitar, electric guitar and traces of percussion and synth, for the first and only time on the album you'll hear vocals.

Side B has just two tracks, the first being a three-part opus titled "Suite Golden Dawn". I would say the titles of the three parts, "Morning Fire", "Calmer Of The Tempests" and "From Ocean To The Clouds" are completely justified as the music creates images that go perfectly with their respective titles. The tune moves beautifully from part to part as they blend very smoothly into each other. Di Meola and his posse of musicians offer a whole plethora of music, creating 10 minutes that can truly be savored. The album comes to a perfect ending, with veteran musician Chick Corea joining in with a composition of his own, titled "Short Tales Of The Black Forest". Not only did he write the complete song, but also played the piano and marimba on it, making it quite a unique track that stands on its own when compared to the rest of the album.

Overall, this album is every bit as great as I had expected it to be, and then some. From this it's pretty clear that the brilliance of Al Di Meola was there for everyone to see, even at such an early stage of his career, and I can imagine how this album must have provided the ideal launching pad for the rest of his career, inspiring Di Meola to keep creating music that in turn became a huge inspiration for others who were fortunate enough to be exposed to this piece of music when it was actually first released, exactly nine years before I was born.

Interview with Glen Drover (Audio)

I did this interview with Glen Drover to talk in detail about his solo debut "Metalusion". Listen to the 15-minute chat above.

Interview with Alex Skolnick (Video)

This is an interview most Metal Assault followers must have seen already, but I'm posting it here because I feel it ties in appropriately with my album review. Watch the 3-minute chat if you haven't already.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Interview with Evan Brewer (Video)

I got to do a brief interview with Evan Brewer at the Key Club in Hollywood CA just a few weeks back, on July 10th, to talk about his solo album "Alone" and the tour with Animals As Leaders. Watch the 5-minute chat above. Thanks to Amanda G Hernandez for filming it.

Alex Skolnick performing at Heritage Guitars booth at NAMM 2011 (Video)

Here's another video I took of Alex Skolnick at NAMM 2011, this time at the Heritage guitars booth as he demonstrates some incredible slap-guitar techniques. This is one video I am more than a 100 per cent sure you will enjoy!

Alex Skolnick's AmpKit jazz guitar demo at NAMM 2011 (Video)

This is a video I took at this year's NAMM convention at the Anaheim Convention Center on January 12th, as Alex Skolnick from Testament/Alex Skolnick Trio demonstrates how a guitarist can get the best jazz sound from the AmpKit guitar app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

Glen Drover: Metalusion (Album Review)

Released: April 5th, 2011 
Reviewed: April 4th, 2011
Modified: July 28th, 2011
Record Label: Magna Carta 

My Rating: 9.5/10

Glen Drover is better known to the metal community as the former member of King Diamond and Megadeth, and to a lesser extent as a member of Canadian power thrash metal band Eidolon which he formed with brother Shawn. And this year with the help of some illustrious names in the industry, he unleashed his solo debut "Metalusion", and as the name suggests, it's a combination of metal and jazz fusion.

Five original tunes and five covers make up the 10-track album. The first of the original compositions is the album opener "Ground Zero", featuring Chris Poland of Megadeth and OHM fame along with Vinnie Moore from UFO. It's an immensely delightful track that nicely sets the tone for the rest of the album. It has quite a strong progressive jazzy feel to it, and with the presence of three jazz connoisseurs in Drover, Poland and Moore, I expected nothing less. Even though it is largely a jazz-speed bonanza, this song has a sufficiently prominent thrash element that should please fans of Megadeth's Poland-era albums. It actually has something for metal fans of all kind, with the guitar harmonies giving it a traditional metal touch as well. "Frozen Dream" is next, and features Steve Smyth from Forbidden. Another excellently composed track, this is highly enjoyable from start to finish, and what stands out here as much as the guitars obviously is Jim Gilmour's contribution on the keyboards which creates a musical trinity that's similar to that of track 1. Paul Yee's bass and Chris Sutherand's drums also add a lot of punch to this tune, thus proving that Metalusion is after all a band effort and not merely a solo album.

The next original track is "Colors Of Infinity" which does not feature any guests and is composed by the Glen Drover band on its own. This being the debut album, the jury would be very much out on Glen's abilities as a composer and band leader, and after listening to this song no one would be left disappointed or dissatisfied, as the incredibly pristine guitar sound that's the focal point of this beautifully powerful tune rings through the listener's grateful ears. "Illusions Of Starlight" comes across as a brilliant follow-up. It offers much of the same guitar goodness but in a slightly more upbeat and up-tempo manner as compared to its predecessor. The last of the original tracks "Ascension" comes in at number 8 in the track listing, another slow, mesmerizingly beautiful piece of music that highlights the genius of Glen Drover.

Other than these, the album includes five cover tunes that pay tribute to Glen's jazz heroes, namely Frank Zappa, Jean-Luc Ponty and Al DiMeola. While doing justice to the original versions of these songs, Glen has certainly given a more 'metal' twist to them, making it more suitable for metal fans. One of the JL Ponty covers features Opeth's Frederik Akesson as guest guitarist while the other boasts of contribution by Nevermore's Jeff Loomis, both musicians giving a lot of oomph to the already powerful music. I'm sufficiently glad listening to how Glen combines with these amazing guest musicians, but given the style and magnitude of this stellar effort, I'm only surprised that it doesn't feature the likes of Alex Skolnick and Devin Townsend. Food for thought for the next album may be?

Overall, this album is more of the kind that progressive rock fans and connoisseurs of virtuosic guitar would appreciate more than your average Megadeth fan would. The fact that it's an instrumental album gives complete opportunity for Glen Drover to present himself in a way he has never been able to do in any of his previous bands. If you previously didn't think much of Glen's abilities as a guitar player and composer, you're in for a pleasant shock.

Featuring some of the most wonderful virtuosic guitar you would have heard in a long time, this is a blissful hour of music which everyone should treat themselves to. To sum it up in one word, I would just say, "Wow!!"

    Track Listing:
  1. Ground Zero [Special Guests Chris Poland and Vinnie Moore]
  2. Frozen Dream [Special Guest Steve Smyth]
  3. Egyptian Danza [Al DiMeola Cover]
  4. Colors Of Infinity
  5. Illusions Of Starlight
  6. Don't Let The World Pass You By [Jean-Luc Ponty Cover, Special Guest Fredrik Akesson]
  7. Mirage [Jean-Luc Ponty Cover, Special Guest Jeff Loomis]
  8. Ascension
  9. The Purple Lagoon [Frank Zappa Cover]
  10. Filthy Habits [Frank Zappa Cover]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Alex Skolnick Trio: Veritas (Album Review)

Release Date: March 29th, 2011
Review Date: July 16th, 2011
Label: Palmetto 

My rating: 10/10

Ever since the Alex Skolnick Trio released its fourth studio album 'Veritas' around 4 months ago, I've been a huge fan and a constant listener of the brilliant masterpiece. Because this is supposed to be primarily a metal outlet, I was apprehensive about reviewing it on here. But because I just finished reviewing Alex Skolnick Trio's bass solo jazz fusion album, I have opened my mind to more reviews of non-metal albums involving musicians better known for playing in metal bands. 'Veritas' immediately came to my mind, for it's surely an album that deserves to be written about.

The 'fusion' aspect of a jazz-fusion album allows for a whole world of possibilities when it comes to exactly how the jazz sound is presented to the listener. With 'Veritas', AST have given their music a distinctly exotic touch that can be felt throughout the album, starting from the brief opening instrumental tune "Panna", right until the final moments of the hour-long piece. "Bollywood Jam" is certainly one of the most compelling tunes I've heard this year, and as an Indian I'm delighted by the fact that connotations referring to my motherland can be seen not only in the song title, but can also be felt in the music, specially by those who are familiar with Indian music.

Besides Bollywood Jam which has turned out to be the main attraction for listeners so far, the album consists of plenty of other tunes that are equally as powerful in their own unique ways. While "Song Of The Open Road", "Veritas" and "The River Lethe" can be described as slow, soft and sensual, the tunes "Veritas In Brooklyn", "Path Of Least Resistance" and "Flection" come across as intensely dark and melodic tunes that carry a lot of emotion in them. Then there's also the upbeat jazz rock-type tune "99-09" to change things up, treating the listener to a joyful 4-and-a-half minutes. In addition to the nine original tunes, the trio has added the metal touch with an astoundingly soothing cover of Metallica's "Fade To Black". Listening to this tune is an out-of-this-world experience in itself, and is further proof of the kind of impact music can have on the human mind. And as if all this wasn't already worth 100 times the price of the album, they've thrown in an interesting club remix of Bollywood Jam to bring the album to a close.

Overall, Veritas is 60 minutes of unrivaled awesomeness, and a must-have album for any music fan. I wholeheartedly thank Testament for introducing me to the genius of Alex Skolnick, as a consequence of which I began to explore his works in other styles of music.

If you saw me at the NAMM convention this year and if by any chance I came across to you as an Alex Skolnick stalker, here's your answer. Just listen to Veritas.

    Track Listing:
  1. Panna
  2. Bollywood Jam
  3. Song of the Open Road
  4. Veritas
  5. Fade To Black (Metallica cover)
  6. Alone In Brooklyn
  7. 99/09
  8. Path Of Least Resistance
  9. Reflections
  10. The River Lethe
  11. Bollywood Jam - Club Remix Version

Evan Brewer: Alone (Album Review)

Release Date: June 28th, 2011
Review Date: July 16th, 2011
Label: Sumerian 

My rating: 10/10

Evan Brewer, better known to the metal world as bassist for The Faceless, has come up with a solo effort of his own, a very unique bass-only album titled 'Alone'. This is most definitely the first time I've come across an album of this kind. I admire his work in The Faceless, and obviously as soon as this was announced, I was more than excited. After listening to these mesmerizing 27-and-a-half minutes, my respect and admiration for Evan Brewer has grown ten-fold.

For starters, you would think I'm lying when I say that each and every note on this album has been created merely by using a bass. But it's in fact the truth. Brewer's work here is true testimony to what a skilled musician can achieve with his instrument. The album is quite simply titled Alone because Brewer is the sole creator and performer. It engages the listener into complete attention right from the outset, with the incredible opening tune "Actualize". Even though it's a short-ish track of 4-minute duration, it's full of twists and turns that would even make prog rock legends proud. I'm pretty sure I'm going to run out of superlatives by the time I'm done with this review, but oh well, I'll give it a try.

"Contraband" sounds every bit as good as the opener, and then some. While it has heavier undertones as compared to the opening track, it also offers a bit more of the melodic aspect that only a genius of the calibre of Brewer could have created on the bass, an instrument certainly not known for melody. "Currency" is dark, spacey and melancholic, a very gripping, almost hypnotic 4 minutes of music. At times you'll hear not one, not two, but three layers of bass. As I said before, you'll really have to listen to it to believe it.

"Altered Perspective" Parts 1 and 2 further enhance the melodic aspect that can be found in the first three tracks. Part 2 is more 'upbeat' than Part 1, and the sheer number of notes you can hear in such a short time interval is quite spine-tingling. The following track "Vertigo", and indeed the rest of the album doesn't disappoint either, and would leave the listener stunned in complete amazement. It's always fascinating for me to think about how song titles for instrumental tunes comes about, to think about how the musician maps his music on to a word or a phrase. Somehow, every title makes perfect sense in this particular album if you get deep into the music.

I always like to see musicians in metal bands attempt to create something of their own on the side, and whether or not it's strictly "metal" doesn't matter to me. But in the end I do owe it to metal to enable me to open my ears to all these different styles of music, purely because of the association I can make between the musician in focus and the metal band I've known him for being a member of. This album also should prove to be a major stepping stone in the endeavor to forever bring to end the common notion that members of metal bands aren't as skilled as musicians outside of the metal sphere.

Whether you're a fan of jazz fusion or not, take it from me that you won't regret picking up Evan Brewer's "Alone". I would suggest you to listen to it exactly the way it should be, sitting by yourself in a quiet room, with headphones on. Because if you do so, this album will quite literally take your mind to another planet.

    Track Listing:
  1. Actualize
  2. Contraband
  3. Currency
  4. Altered Perspective One
  5. Altered Perspective Two
  6. Vertigo
  7. The Decline
  8. Degenerate
  9. Looking West
  10. A Climate For Change