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Summer Album Recap: Spectrum Road's Debut Album a Pyrotechnic Powerhouse

By Eamonn Morris in Arts & Culture

Summer has passed away into pleasant memories, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy some of the season’s best and most enduring entertainment. In the huge rush of film and album releases, music festivals, and the like, inevitably some things may go overlooked. The new Fusion quartet Spectrum Road certainly turned a lot of heads in the jazz community, but escaped the eyes of the general public. So if you missed it, here’s an inside look at the band’s debut album, the eponymous Spectrum Road. Spectrum Road is rare in that it is both a tribute band and a supergroup. Featuring cross-genre talent, the band’s lineup is as likely to please rock fans as it is jazz. Vernon Reid, of hard-rock band Living Color, fills the guitar chair, and Cream cofounder Jack bruce lends bass and vocal talent. On the jazz side of things are drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, who’s played with diverse talents such as Ron Carter and Lenny Kravitz; and John Medeski, of jam-band powerhouse Medeski, Martin, and Wood playing organ. The band was formed to perform the strange, genre-hopping compositions of Lifetime founder Tony Williams, seen by many as one of the greatest drummers who ever lived. The album begins with the pyrotechnic “Vuelta Abajo,” which sets the energetic tone of the album right away with a big, bright, loud declaration. The temptation with this kind of music is to let virtuosity supercede tasteful ensemble playing, and the band resists this urge, but only barely. The song is so big and loud that it’s hard not for the listener to get carried away by the fiery intensity of the players. Nevertheless, the playing is extremely tight, and Reid and Medeski put out walls of sound that are nimbly countered by Blackman Santana as Bruce chugs away underneath. Following Vuelta Abajo is the brooding “There Comes a Time”, which features Bruce’s famously operatic vocals alongside a bluesy accompaniment. “Coming Back Home” is a breezy rocker that blows by without much fuss, while “Where” is a long, dark, murky groove that radiates a solemn power through Medeski’s relentless organ riff. “An-t Eilan Muileach” seems to transport the listener to the Middle East, with exotic percussion sounds accompanying Bruce’s enigmatic fretless bass lines. "Vashkar," which opens the album’s second half, is another display of rock-oriented volcanism, with Reid’s guitar pouring out lightning fast solo lines while Medeski drives along steadily. “One Word” is the closest the album comes to straight rock, with Bruce singing Tony Williams’ spiritual lyrics over soaring chords from Medeski, although a healthy amount of dissonance keeps us from floating away. “Blues for Tillmon,” a relaxed guitar/fretless bass duet that turns into a laid-back swinger, precedes “Allah be Praised,” a rollicking gospel tune where Williams put his witty stamp on the classic American genre. Closing out the album is “Wild Life,” an original band tune that matches Williams’ tunes in their surging power while providing an anthemic melody. Spectrum Road may not be everyone’s cup of tea- the long cuts and sheer volume and power of the compositions are a bit of a stretch to get through right away- but it’s really a fantastic release and is worth looking into for any fans of rock or jazz music. A

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