Born of a conversation almost ten years ago between Reid and Bruce, Spectrum Road started out as a tribute to Williams, but has grown into an entity of its own - Williams' tunes are the guidepost, but while they provide a basic frame, the album is an endless array of brash improvisations, solos, and a sense of accompaniment that always pushes the soloist to push themselves to the outer limits of their huge skill sets. Vernon Reid makes no particular effort to replicate John McLaughlin's original guitar parts, instead, he's simply being himself - at times reminding the listener of the super effected, turbocharged leads that brought him to fame with the woefully underrated Living Colour, and then at times he sounds like the best jazz saxophonist in decades. Where McLaughlin's playing on Lifetime records suggested psychedelia, Reid's suggests extraterrestrials.
|Photo by Marek Hofman|
Next up is Going Back Home, based on a Jan Hammer tune, Coming Back Home, from Williams' 1978 album, The Joy of Flying. This would be a fairly standard piece of melodic fusion were it not for the virtuosity on display. Everyone takes a few turns, and this becomes much more than just a pleasant melody. It wonderfully reflects the maturity of these players as they unleash otherworldly chops, and yet manage to not step on one another's toes, or ever seem overly busy. Even as Reid toggles between stating the melody in myriad of subtle variations and some splendid torrents of 64th notes, he does so with an understated grace - something most guitarists will ever comprehend, let alone emulate.
Sounding like a hybrid of Scottish, Indian, and inter-galactic space rock, An t-Eilan Muileach (Isle of Mull) is a Jack Bruce raga meditation on a Scottish classic, sang, of course, in Gaelic. Sitting roughly at the album's midpoint, one could hardly ask for a more thoughtful and pleasant respite. Never so meditative as to become sleepy, again it demonstrates the remarkable musical maturity on tap here.
Bruce returns to the past for One Word, which he originally recorded with Williams in 1970 after he had left the luxurious, but stressful environs of Cream. What's amazing is how much better his voice sounds here than in did 42 years ago. There is more dynamism and energy, as well as straight fire power. I don't know how Bruce has managed to make such a tremendous comeback from a life threatening liver transplant just eight short years ago, but I am ever so grateful to still have him here and making such music. I can't see where this record is much less earth shattering than Cream's were in their day.
Allah B Praised features the band wearing their rock and roll shoes again, and they maintain a blistering pace for over four minutes of musical daredevilry. It amazes me to hear a superstar such as Bruce functioning strictly as the bass player, and knocking the ball clean out of the park. I always get miffed when someone accuses a star such as, say, Paul McCartney, of laying back, or holding his best licks for his own tunes - time and time again, this is simply not true (listen to Paul's work on Something, or Lennon's Come Together!). Bruce is always a beautiful part of Spectrum Road's rich tapestry.
I can't imagine that this won't lead to another record, and I'm hoping that if there is another, that it will be filled with originals. It's very clear that Spectrum Road has a magic that far exceeds their initial premise. Every member plays as well, if not better than they ever have.
Jack Bruce? Well, don't get me started. The guy seems to be getting better by the moment, having seemingly found the fountain of musical youth and genius. The man is a true inspiration.
At the end of the day, this just might be Mrs. Santana's album. I don't know of any other drummer who has laid it down quite like this in some time in this realm. A magnificent performer, and performance.
Great thanks to Spectrum Road, and Kevin Calabro at Calabro Music Media.