Fusion...What is it? Some critics got together and slapped a convenient tag on a handful of artists in the mid to late 1970's that were taking improvisation to a slightly more contemporary spin with a slight rock edge when you consider artists such as Billy Cobham, Alan Holdsworth, and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Much like the rather abstract notion of "free jazz" or "experimental music" which came about simply because critics did not have the slightest clue as to where the musicians were coming from, it was far easier to slap an abstract label on someone else's work then to take the time to get to know not only the artist but the art itself.
Enter The Fusion Syndicate.
An intriguing release that reexamines "fusion" but probably not in the traditional sense as has been presented to you in the past. This release features artists that walk the smoother side of the jazz street as well as those that have made a profound influence not just on modern rock music but are the god fathers of another sub genre of music previously left for dead being "art rock." Here we have members of Spyro Gyra and the YellowJackets as well as Brand X and Yes. A heavy all most deeply cinematic lyrical concept that is pushed to the more experimental side of the art rock phenomenon for an incredibly evocative and sadly far too short of a release for my particular taste. Artists such as Rick Wakeman, Jimmy Haslip, Larry Coryell, Eric Marienthal, Randy Brecker and Steve Morse take the listener on sonic flights of fancy that are simply lacking in today's improvisation music with extremely limited exceptions to be fair.
This seven track release opens with "Random Acts Of Silence" where a slightly abstract ambient trip gives way to textured layers of wonder thanks to the prolific lyrical talents of the great Rick Wakeman. Billy Sherwood turns in inspiring performances on guitar and drums with Jimmy Haslip the harmonic glue holding this ensemble together with the ability to shift dynamics on the fly while providing the perfect counterpoint smoldering just below the surface. Jerry Goodman gives a Jean Luc Ponty style performance on this edgy introduction to the endless possibilities that still exist with improvisational music. "Particle Accelerations" is a pulsating gem, a syncopated exploratory of melody and rhythm weaving through each other while Larry Coryell takes flight recalling the lyrical intensity from some thirty plus years previous while amazingly never coming across as dated. There is a vibrancy here that gives strong credence that not only is this a genre still more than viable but over time could perhaps have produced far greater works then the somewhat limited catalog that is left to hunt and peck from. "Atom Smashing" continues the dynamic ebb and flow with the pop of Chad Wackerman on drums and the great Tony Kay on hammond organ and synths. John Etheridge more than holds his own on lead guitar.
So are we left with any earth shattering surprises or sonic epiphanies here? No...Should we have been? Not really...That is the beautiful thing with the improvisational riff on what was formerly known as art rock which morphed into the more commonly accepted term of "fusion" as whatever is taken away is left for the listener to decide. While some refer to this ensemble as a jazz super group it is clearly not given the multiple artists and unique parings. A improvisation collective specializing in cerebral flights of faith might be a tad more accurate here. Call it whatever helps you sleep at night, it's great music performed at an ungodly level the average musician should aspire to but in reality can only dream of.
Tracks: Random Acts Of Silence; Stone Cold Infusion; Molecular Breakdown; Particle Acceleration; At The Edge Of The Middle; Atom Smashing; In The Spirit Of...
Personnel: Rick Wakeman: keyboard solos; Jerry Goodman: violins; Nik Turner: sax; Jimmy Haslip: bass; Steve Stevens: lead guitar; Jordan Rudess: keyboard solos; Mel Collins: sax; Colin Edwin: bass; Billy Cobham: drums; David Sancious: keyboard solos; Jay Beckenstein: sax; Billy Sheehan: bass; Gavin Harrison: drums; Larry Coryell: lead guitar; Derek Sherinian: keyboard solos; Eric Marienthal: sax; Chester Thompson: drums; Steve Morse: lead guitar; Jim Beard: piano solos; Randy Brecker: trumpet; Percy Jones: bass; John Etheridge: lead guitar; Tony Kaye; hammond organ & synths; Chad Wackerman; drums; Steve Hillage: guitars; Scott Kinsey: keyboard solos; Theo Tavis: sax; John Chancellor: bass; Asaf Sirkis: drums.