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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Alan Morse

four o'clock and hysteria

Review by Gary Hill

When I popped this CD in I was kind of expecting something that would sound like Morse's band Spock's Beard. Had I read the press materials that came with, I would have realized that the ride in store was different, but I usually prefer to give first impressions the chance to sink in before clouding them with words written about the disc. So, if this doesn't sound like Spock's Beard, what type of music is it? Alan Morse has provided us with a healthy dosage of classic instrumental fusion. While that type of sound can get old pretty fast, it's a true testament to his musical prowess that this album holds up extremely well. He shows enough variety in his arrangements that it is the penultimate piece where the monotony sets in. I think that had he moved a couple songs around that sort of effect could have been avoided altogether. Either way, though, for fans of instrumental fusion, you don't get much better than this. Beard fans looking to expand their musical horizons would be advised to pick this one up, too. While I wouldn't consider it to be a perfect album (mostly in terms of pacing), it's darn close.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Cold Fusion
A brief keyboard introduction (complete with odd sound effects) lead this off. From there it launches out into a funky fusion exploration that calls to mind Joe Satriani as much as people like Allan Holdsworth and Pat Metheny. One might also hear sounds akin to the Dixie Dregs on the tune. This is purely scorching and a killer way to start the disc. Space sounds finally end this.
Return to Whatever
Here we get a track that doesn't vary a lot from its predecessor in terms of musical territory. The melodies and scorching guitar work is purely original, but the overall musical theme stays fairly the same. Or should that be “the song remains the same?” Mind you, this one does have some intriguing changes from the plan of the last track in terms of execution. For one thing we get both some mellower moments and a frantic, screaming segment that's a lot faster than the opener. This just doesn't move far from the general realm that “Cold Fusion” exists within.
Drive In Shuffle
It seems to be a general rule of thumb that a lot of albums have the ballad in the third position. The subtle tones that begin this make one thing that it's going to be the case here, too. However, once the introduction is over and the bouncing main song is in play, those visions are gone. This one has more of that Dregs sort of sound and is a lot of fun. It's not as “serious” sounding as the first couple cuts and makes a good change of pace. It also includes some more traditional progressive rock textures in terms of acoustic guitar based segments that might even call to mind Steve Howe just a bit.
R Bluz
The first full on change up of the disc, this one is a slower, more sedate jam. As the title suggests there are blues elements to be found on this arrangement, but overall we get a killer fusion instrumental. There is a break on this that reminds me a lot of “The Slime” from Frank Zappa. We also get some moments where the guitar calls to mind Stevie Ray Vaughn a bit. There is also a section later that made me think of Buddy Guy.
First Funk
If the last number was a change of pace, you ain't seen nothing yet. This one has a definite mellow groove to it, but Morse's guitar soars over this backdrop, weaving vapor trails in the open air above. He takes it a little crunchy at times, but still the track has a relaxed sort of feel that makes it one of my favorites on show here.
Dschungel Cruz
Here we get something more akin to the opening number. It's another killer jam. It moves off into some more unusual directions and shifts as it carries onward, setting it apart from some of the other material a bit. This is another where I can hear bits that remind me of Zappa.
The Rite of Left
A crunching, nearly metal approach leads this off. As it kicks in the fusion textures blend with a backdrop that would fit into an epic metal band's album. I suppose comparisons to Yngwie Malmsteen are rather obvious here. While a whole album of this would come across as a bit over the top, in this context it serves as a nice piece of variety. It does include some of the neo-classical guitar that is so popular in epic metal – and that also can become a bit noodly. Morse shows restraint in keeping it tasteful. As this carries onward – and drops to just Morse's wailing guitar it becomes quite close to true classical music for a time. After this excursion, though, it powers back out into more metal territory to finish out the composition.
Chroma
This bouncy number is extremely funky and another personal favorite. It's a toe-tapping groove that really grabs on and doesn't let go. Morse moves it around a lot and pulls in varying segments and textures to keep this one interesting. He also coaxes some of the most interesting sounds of the whole disc out of his fretboard on this one.
Spanish Steppes
So, with that title you'd expect flamenco inspired sounds, right? Well, guess again. This starts off with a very traditional prog sounding keyboard texture. As the electric guitar based fusion kicks in there is a slight Spanish texture to the sound, but nothing extreme enough to pass as flamenco (except perhaps in some of the overlayers). This is another tasteful fusion jam that seems to rise ever higher in it's triumphant arrangement. This contains some of the most evocative music on the CD and may well be my favorite cut here.
Track 3
One has to wonder why the tenth song on the disc would be titled “Track 3.” A truly sedate tone leads this off, feeling a bit like Tangerine Dream. As the guitar brings in the main motif it is more of the type of fusion that typifies the album.
Major Buzz
A jangly guitar sound is the opening salvo here, but it quickly shifts out into more of the same sound that has made up the disc to this point. This is also where the album's lack of real variety starts to hit. It's a shame, too, because this is one of the better tracks on show – it's just that it's all starting to sound the same by now.
Home
Pretty balladic tones begin this. As the guitar joins, this more gentle approach and slow measured timing makes it a change up, right when we desperately needed one. I think if I had set up the track order on this disc, I would have swapped this out with “Major Buzz.” It would have provided enough of a change to make that one feel more fresh. Don't get me wrong, the overall feeling of this song makes it appropriate as a disc closer, it has that sort of sound. It's just that in terms of listenability for the album I think the alteration in musical textures would have been better at an earlier point.
 
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