Red-hot fusion explorations that draw strongly from the genre’s past peaks. Lucas Pickford is an up-and-coming bass wizard who has found his own voice amid the saturating influences of Jaco, Stanley Clarke, Jonas Hellborg and Jeff Berlin. Pickford is indebted to all the above but derivative of none. Here he partners with keyboardist Steve Hunt, who has worked prominently with Billy Cobham, Allan Holdsworth and other major fusion players. The results, recorded at Hunt’s home studio, provide an impressive overview of where fusion came from and where it’s headed.
John McLaughlin is clearly a profound influence on all the performing parties. The exotic flavors of Mahavishnu abound in several tracks (“Ikshvaku”, “Arjuna Speaks”), and an excellent cover of McLaughlin’s “The Wish” features Pickford on both sarod and bass. He, Hunt and percussionist Vinay Kantak do a fine job of navigating the tune’s demanding rhythmic shifts. This music requires an unfathomable degree of concentration and fine listening skills, which the players share in spades. “Ikshvaku” is a masterpiece that easily blends the colors of India and Weather Report. “Mysterious Passage” is itself a loving homage to Weather Report, composed by the bassist. Jaco’s fleet-fingered bass style is admirably recalled, and Hunt plows the mysteries of Joe Zawinul’s keyboard textures with equal aplomb. The absence of a saxophone keeps the tune from veering from homage to imitation. “Croaker” is more in the Cobham camp, wherein drummer Steve Michaud holds forth admirably.
It’s nice to find a fusion album that doesn’t rely too heavily on guitar pyrotechnics. Only four of the tracks have any guitar at all, and only on “Croaker” and “Mr. Crum” does Tim Miller really set the strings ablaze. This is really Pickford’s show from stem to stern, and the bassist does not disappoint. His high-range rapidity on “Panic Attack” renders moot the lack of a guitar. For his part, Hunt is sensible to not toss around the kind of ostentatious cheese that made us all hate keyboards by the end of the 80s. Keyboardist Dow Brain joins in on two tracks, “Panic Attack” and “Hot Shot”, weaving some blissful Rhodes sounds into the mix. “Smatter” leans a little toward Miles’ 70s funk at first, then scoots away from the darkness into fun funkiness.
Blown Fuse is what fusion is really all about, what keeps its older fans satisfied and its younger fans hopeful for the future. Steve Hunt remains a treasure, and Lucas Pickford is definitely a man to watch. Simply outstanding.
(Available at http://www.lucaspickford.com as of December 10, 2001)
Personnel: [Collective:] Lucas Pickford, basses, sarod; Steve Hunt, synths, electric guitar, programming; Charles Haynes, Steve Michaud, drums; Vinay Kantak, tablas, djembe, vocals; Tim Miller, guitars; Dow Brain, keyboards.