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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jeff Berlin

Jack Songs

Review by Gary Hill

This album from Jeff Berlin is a tribute to Jack Bruce. As a bass player (well, one who doesn't really play anymore) both of those two JBs are high on my list of notable inspirations because both are (in the case of Bruce was) among the best bass players out there. So, I would have been interested in this album just based on that. Berlin doesn't stop there, though. First, he assembled an amazing list of guest performers here that includes Gregg Bissonette. Sammy Hagar, Scott Henderson, Gary Husband, Eric Johnson, Geddy Lee, Tony Levin, Alex Lifeson, Billy Sheehan and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. The thing is, this album is made up of some exceptional music. I think this might be Berlin's best album. I would also say that if you are a bass enthusiast, you must get this. The bass playing is absolutely off-the-charts great.

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Track by Track Review
A heavy chord opens this and sustains. Then piano band bass take control. They take this out into a Cream medley that gets some definite jazz elements added to the mix. Alex Lifeson delivers the guitar soloing on this song. The arrangement on this is inventive and so cool. The track captures all the magic of the original material while often turning it on its head. This is such a strong piece of music and a great opener.
Theme From An Imaginary Western
Piano and vocals start this in a balladic way. Eventually the arrangement fills out and we get some cool jazzy rock sounds as it does. There is some killer jamming later that, of course, features some amazing bass work. We're eventually taken back to the piano and vocal arrangement after an awe-inspiring musical journey. That takes it to a closing blast of full instrumental approach to end. There are two guests on this song. The first is Eric Johnson who provides the guitar solo. Gregg Bissonette drums on the cut.
A Letter of Thanks
A bluesy number, this is more of a full jazz-based cut. The keyboard and bass interplay on the extended jam later in the track is powerful, retro and amazing. There are some cool twists and turns, and at times this song makes me think of Frank Zappa just a little.
L’Angelo Misterioso
Here we get an even jazzier jam. Horns bring some special magic to this, but the rocking groove works well on its own. The lead vocal on this song is provided by Sammy Hagar. It turns to rocking rather fusion oriented zones in a powerhouse instrumental jam later. That section features guitar soloing from Scott Henderson. Gary Husband plays the drums on that part of the number, too. It drops to a piano solo as that movement peaks.
Rope Ladder to the Moon
The rhythm section provides the backdrop for the first vocals on this number. The track has even more of a fusion sound to it. This tune evolves and flows well. It has some intriguing turns and variations as it works forward. The guitar solo on this (by Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal) really explores the sonic space in some inspired and expressive ways.
One Without a Word
A bluesy piano and vocal arrangement gets us underway here. The track grows gradually, but eventually gets into some cool prog rocking zones for a time. It drops to a mellower movement from there. That gives way to a reprise of the earlier section. There is a killer fusion jam later in the song.
Smiles Story and Morning Grins
A piano driven arrangement starts this. The cut shifts from there to a smoking hot fusion jam. This just keeps twisting and turning, though. The first vocals are delivered in this cool fast-paced, tastefully off-kilter fusion movement. Again, this is ever-changing, though. The instrumental section on this is high energy and screaming hot fusion. This is such an awesome ride. It actually features a bass relay. The bass players who participate (in order) are: Tony Levin (doing his part on Chapman Stick), Billy Sheehan, Michael League, Mark King, Ron Carter, Marcus Miller, Nathan East and Geddy Lee. This song is worth the price of admission by itself for bass fans like myself.
Folk Song
While this number remains slower and less intense than some of the rest here, it is packed with emotion in it's fusion textures. Of course, there is some stellar bass work, but it also has some particularly strong piano playing. The track does get a bit more intense further down the road.
Traintime Time
Fast-paced fusion jamming is on the menu as this gets underway. The cut drives forward sans vocals for a long time, but there are eventually some tribal-styled vocals from Gumbi Ortiz. We get a smoking hot harmonica solo (Pat Bergeson) after that part of the cut. This eventually gets into some particularly powerful zones, and the tribal vocals return at the end.
Fuimus (We Have Been)
Piano starts this. Vocals (this time by Berlin himself) come over the top of the number. This is an evocative and unique track that remains on the ballad end of the spectrum. It's also very jazz-oriented.
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