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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Rare Blend

Stops Along The Way

Review by Gary Hill

Fans of jam bands and fusion jazz stylings will find plenty to like on this album. I’ve included it in the progressive rock section because there is enough rock here amongst the jazz-like arrangements to quality it there, but it is quite close to the jazz genre. Most of the material here is purely instrumental, but two tracks do have vocals. While the sounds of the disc fit pretty well into the fusion arena, they are quite varied from track to track and you might find yourself hearing a number of other acts (some not even fusion oriented) showing up in the mix.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Illegal Aliens
This one kicks of with a great fusion groove and follows through by running us further down the track. Fast paced and extremely tasty, this makes for a great opener. In fact, this thing is a total killer piece of music.
Wuhun Incident
Incredibly funky, the fusion sounds are still simply on fire here. If you like classic fusion music, you will love this. They move it out later into some rather odd tuneage the feels a bit like Frank Zappa at times. The cut alternates between these two stylings as it moves forward and is another highlight of the disc. You might even hear a little Santana on this arrangement. This one turns into a very expansive and ever changing jam that’s always entertaining.
Mystic Jam
This one is a change of pace. Here we get a cool, space rocked out sort of jam that’s got a lot of Hawkwind to it. They still manage to pack a big chunk of soulful groove into the mix. About two and a half minutes in they intensify it out into an almost Yes-like progression, but this doesn’t stick around long, giving way to the stylings that preceded it.
Cole Train
We’re back into harder rocking territory, this time with a mode that feels a bit like a cross between Yes, Dream Theater and Joe Satriani. This one careens and cruises, depending on the part of the song, but no matter which mode, it’s a smooth ride. They even drop it way back down to an expansive keyboard oriented segment for a while. They also move out into a percussion solo, after a short bit of space. From there, though, the burst back into the main musical themes with an increased enthusiasm. Bonus points go out for the clever title here - ignore the spelling and jus say it out loud.
Feast of The Warrior Kings
Percussion starts this off, then keys join and, eventually, other instrumentation in an open, free form sort of jazz excursion that has some dissonance. As this moves onward it becomes more developed, but the sort of free fusion jamming is still in place. This cut has elements linking it to bands like Djam Karet and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. They turn a corner about two and a half minutes into something more laid back, but as they move on it becomes obvious that the free-form and rather experimental side has not been left behind. Eventually they crank it back out into some of the most crunchy guitar oriented material on the disc. A cool riff takes it just past the five-minute mark and serves as the conclusion.
Splat!
Once again the drums lead this one off, but quickly the rest of the instruments join in more of a groove oriented fusion sound. They still manage to pull this one into more dissonant and experimental concepts, but keep those elements from distracting from the song’s flow. This gets quite funky at times. It also turns out into some Grateful Dead like jamming at points.
Miles To Go
Here we get a bit more of a mellow, soulful groove. Still, this has a lot of energy. In a change of pace there are jazz oriented female blues vocals on this hot number. Later they pull it out into more prog-like territory by incorporating retro sounding keys and other instrumental elements into the mix. A smoking guitar solo comes in still later, while the song exhibits more prog tendencies.
Intermission
According to the liner notes this is one of three pieces here that are studio improvisations. This number is more jazz oriented still with some dissonance. It’s the second shortest one on the disc at just over three minutes and has some King Crimson-like elements.
Off To Arizona
While the modes that begin this are purely jazz-like as they move it forward it takes on country and Spanish textures in an arrangement that reminds me a lot of the California Guitar Trio. This arrangement becomes more energized and full at times, but that vibe remains anyway.
Grand Central Station
A more open jam makes up this, the shortest piece on the disc. It’s a little free form, a little funky and a lot of cool. It’s also another of the improvised pieces. The bass line, running like a marathoner throughout the number, is prominent (even if a bit back in the mix) on this one. This turns quite dissonant later.
Dinner at Koko's
Here we get the final live studio improv of the disc. The rhythm section leads this one off and the cut comes in as another rather funky one. They move this in a number of directions, becoming rather dissonant at times. It’s a creative one that might lack a bit of the cohesiveness of some of the rest of the disc. That said, it makes up for that shortcoming with a lot of creativity and ingenuity.
Destiny's Eyes
Here we start off with a beautiful acoustic guitar based ballad approach. As other instrumental elements enter the jazz stylings are still there, but joined with more of a pure prog approach. I guess a good analogy would be Jethro Tull meets Pat Metheny. This one is quite pretty and one of the more unique pieces on the disc. I’d also say that it’s my favorite on show here. This does move further into the fusion realm later, but overall it maintains its pretty and melodic mode throughout.
Heading Home
They close the disc with a bluesy ballad with soulful female vocals. While this stripped down cut’s lyrics certainly earn it a closing slot, I’m not sure that it’s the most effective number for a final shot. It does seem a bit too sedate for that purpose.
 
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