One of the most talked-about trios of recent times unites with a legend of jazz-rock to brew up an unforgettable session. The first CAB
album (Tone Center, 1999) turned many heads with its tasty blend of Tony MacAlpine’s shred-guitar chops, Bunny Brunel’s fusion bass sensibilities, and Dennis Chambers’ soulful but hard-rocking drumming. This time around the titanic trio joined forces with Brian Auger, who forged mighty alloys of rock, soul and jazz with his bands Trinity and Oblivion Express in the 60s and 70s. The resultant session is a grand achievement indeed.
MacAlpine holds fast to the front line with his fleet, incendiary guitar style, worlds removed from the head-banging ‘tude of his early work. He emerged as a promising young lion of “shred” at precisely the wrong time. The appeal of pyrotechnic guitar artistry was abruptly fading because of posturing punks who measured skill in notes per measure instead of musicianship. Thankfully MacAlpine, one of the truly great talents in that pool of waste, was able to reinvent himself and rise as a more fusion-oriented performer. His early six-string excesses gave way to thoughtful inventiveness and an ear for group interaction, the end result of which is heard here in all its glory. His lines complement or clash with the keyboards as necessary, and he punctuates many passages with rapid-fire flurries of notes that manage to not sound pretentious in their present context.
Brunel, whose resume includes significant work with Chick Corea, is a resourceful bassist who has few qualms about stepping into the limelight. He soars into his solo on “Dennis” with very high notes and increasingly complex figures, nailing down his place in the mix with no hesitation. His ensemble work is suitably forceful and active; he’s certainly not one to rest on the root tone. His lines on “South Side” are so animated it’s hard to keep up with them. Time and again he darts into unexpected unison with MacAlpine, then back into his own funky bag. Brunel’s lowest notes seem rather murky and undefined, most likely a production flaw than an intended effect, but it doesn’t get in the way of the whole musical formula.
Chambers is one of the funkiest drummers of the modern era, capable of segueing from thrash to bebop to P-Funk in a heartbeat. His recent tenure in the steaming organ trio Niacin obviously served as a good preparation for the boiling cauldron of CAB. His fundamental rhythms are rather more basic in the long stretch than that of Steve Smith or Dave Weckl. But that’s a definite asset in a group this busy, and Chambers has numerous chances to stretch out and show his stuff.
If there’s one quibble with CAB 2, it’s that the keyboards tend to be rather anonymous. This unfortunately relegates the robust Auger to second-banana status much of the time. Only when he steps up to the B3 organ do the keys become of real consequence. This is not intended as a negative reflection on Auger’s talents; it’s simply the nature of synthesizers that they mask the identity of their user. When Auger is in command of the B3 console, however, it’s all systems go and the temperature triples. His soulfulness hasn’t diminished a bit since the olden days, and he proves a most worthy addition to the CAB team on this well-honed release. Recommended.
Personnel: Tony MacAlpine, guitar and keyboards; Bunny Brunel, bass and keyboards; Dennis Chambers, drums; Brian Auger, keyboards and Hammond B3.