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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Rare Blend

Sessions

Review by Gary Hill

I really liked Rare Blend’s last disc, Stops Along the Way a lot, so this one had a lot to live up to. A live disc (recorded at various stage and studio settings) this CD is even stronger than that one. It’s not got any weak material and the whole disc rocks out. When you are talking a disc of purely instrumental music that says a lot. I’d highly recommend this to fans of fusion and fusion based prog rock. It’s a great set.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Hipster Spinster
Keyboards start this and hold it for a time. After the half minute mark the rest of the band join and take it into some killer fusion territory. It wanders toward more melodic prog rock as it continues to evolve. A crescendo takes it back down to the keyboard dominance that opened the piece. As it rises back up the guitar creates some seriously hard rocking sounds as it solos across the top. There is a section later in this piece that makes me think of the theme song to "Get Smart," but it only lasts for a couple measures. The fusion drives this forward until a crescendo ends it.
March to Orion
Atmosphere opens this and holds it for a short time. Then a killer bass line takes it in new directions. The group come in with scorching fusion from there as they build this out into the next smoking jam of the set. The bass line is very much a fusion sort of motif, but the keyboards that soar all over this remind me more of a classic Yes sound – ala Yes. Listening to the opener it would have been hard to imagine them to topping it, and yet, here we are. They move out to a mellower, melodic section later that makes me think just a bit of some of The Grateful Dead’s spacey music. This turns more prog-like (but doesn’t rise up) before it takes the tune out.
Mystic Jam
This is well named as it comes in with some killer cosmic sounding keyboards and as other instruments join this feels very mystical in nature. At least this definitely applies to the first minute to minute and a half of the track. When they power this out to a driving fusion sound the mysticism comes in as waves of sound over the top and in many ways I’m made to think of a fusion Hawkwind. It gets quite intense as it continues. It works out to mellower, rather atmospheric music to end. 
Market Square
The rhythm section begins this in a driving pattern and the group build it up gradually from there. The bass line really gets quite potent as they carry on, but so does the keyboard jamming that comes in over the top. We also get a killer horn solo on this piece – making it stand out. We get a killer bass solo later in the track, but everyone seems to find an opportunity to shine. I’d consider most of this piece to be jazz, but there’s some scorching rock music in it, too. They take us out into an extremely melodic musical journey later in the number.
Hide & Seek
Bass leads off here and we get some wah guitar over the top of it. They evolve this out into a space rock meets jam band kind of approach. This feels very organic, but it’s also quite dynamic and very powerful. I like it a lot.
Jazzmin
Starting off mellower, keys and other elements swirl and circle around in some intriguing patterns as the cut rises gradually upward. They take it out into some rather dissonant territory later and this has a definite freeform texture to it.
Say What?
A more typical fusion jam, this is tasty and has a bit of a Dixie Dregs vibe. It’s a hard rocking number and quite cool, but it also moves out into a bit of chaotic dissonance at times.
The Timekeeper
A frantic and crunchier fusion jam, this one is again typical of the genre, just a different end of the musical spectrum. There’s some cool funk guitar on it. There’s some killer bass work on this.
28 Degrees
More melodic, but also spacey, this is another tasty fusion piece. It’s got some killer bass work and a real space sort of feeling to a lot of it. It builds out into a very fiery sort of jam that’s just plain scorching, but drops back to melodic territory after a while like that.
Neon Noodle
A swirling, Crimson meets jazz kind of progression starts this off and serves as the foundation for the earlier jamming here. This is another that’s gets quite freeform. It also gets very intense.
Zhadum
At ten and a half minutes (roughly) in length, this is the longest number on show here. It starts with keyboards and then grows up in a rather movie soundtrack sort of fashion. This is powerful and theatrical and ominous in texture. It is quite classically oriented, too. It shifts towards something a bit like Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, but then around the two minute mark we’re taken into more traditional fusion territory again. There is some killer classic prog keyboard work on this. This is quite a dynamic number and we’re taken through a number of changes on this roller coaster ride. There’s a percussion solo on this, but it’s not very long as the bass joins after a short time and then the rest of the band, too. There’s a short riff based movement that reminds me of Rush and then we get some King Crimson-like music after that to take it out. 
Phantom Lair
This rises tentatively and rather atmospheric, but calls to mind both Hawkwind and King Crimson to my ear. It works out into a killer jam from there that has a real classic prog sound to it. This works through a number of changes and alterations and at times reminds me of Pentwater. It has a definite classical bent to it at points, as well.
Break A Leg
A funky bass line serves as a lot of the backing for this killer jam. This is more in keeping with the opening track, but it also reminds me quite a bit of both Niacin and the Dixie Dregs. As they continue the arrangement gets quite lush. I can hear bits of Satriani on this at times, too.
Christine’s Theme
More melodic and staid than a lot of the music here, this is arguably the most easily accessible. While it doesn’t have the dynamic range of some of the rest of the music, this is far from stagnant.
 
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