I remember very clearly checking out the band Gongzilla’s progenitor, Gong, many years ago during the heyday of the fusion movement. The artsy European album covers and sophisticated surnames listed on the jackets offered much promise. However, that band never quite cleared the hurdles, and so through its various and sundry incarnations over the years, I have ignored its output. But if East Village Sessions gives any indication as to what I may have been missing over the last two decades, perhaps I should revisit some of those earlier recordings and take a second listen.
East Village Sessions is a fusion display that impresses with its melodies while maintaining a stubborn adherence to the groove. Also of note is Gongzilla's willingness to offer subtlety. The best jazz fusion music is not afraid to show a tender side from time to time – just as long as it doesn’t loiter in that territory and become that God awful smooth stuff. Gongzilla stays just about the right time there before it goes off into another ethereal exploration.
To these ears, the engine of this musical flight is provided by the vibes of Benoit Moerlen. Once he gets the band off the ground, drummer Gary Husband, percussionist Phil Kester and bassist Hansford Rowe serve as co-navigators to make sure the ship flies along its flight plan. Pilot Ben Lozaga’s guitar playing, new to me, sounds as if it is where Jeff Beck may have gone if he stayed with the “fusion thing.” And that is a compliment.
Lunar Crush guitarist David Fiuczynski, the hardest name to spell in jazz, guest stars on one cut, apparently following a long tradition of guitar greats to record with the different Gongs.
All of the pieces are enjoyable, but especially “Haniface,” which opens the album. This track invites you to stick around and listen, because you may learn something.
Gongzilla may not offer the fastest or highest craft – but these players are flying the same plane, which is something you can’t say about a lot of bands out there which don’t have the luxury of using just the top guns.
Track Listing: Haniface; Aquila; Lilly; Ging Gong; Thrive; My Doctor Told Me So; The News; No Pennies Please
Personnel: Hansford Rowe- bass; Bon Lozaga- guitar; Benoit Moerlen- vibes; Gary Husband- drums; Phil Kester- percussion; David Fiuczynski- guitar