If you've sensed a shortage of adrenaline and testosterone in the year's new jazz releases, and still yearn for some of that down-to-earth, kick-ass fusion, replete with hyper-athletic chops and afterburner grooves, then wait no longer. Virtuoso fusion projects seem to be out of fashion with large corporate labels bent on milking their vaults with re-issues (seems they've found out there's just more profit when there's no artist development or living musicians involved!).
Fortunately, in the forever fickle record industry, this now leaves opportunities for smaller, independent and artist-led labels to perform music from their hearts and fingers, and get it released without regard for the decrepit bureaucracies and fiefdoms of jazz radio airplay.
Leading an artistic resurgence of fusion bent on leaving aspiring musicians' mouths agape, and making no apologies to the timid, is this year's electric keyboard power trio, Niacin. The delights here are simply too numerous to pass up for any fan of the Hammond B-3 or the Fender Rhodes piano – and keyboardist John Novello leads an amazing balance, given the power and explosiveness of the rhythm section. The frothing musical brew that makes up eleven tracks on High Bias is diverse, playful, and enchanting, and augmented by luminary guest appearances by the likes of Chick Corea, Rayford Griffin, Kenwood Dennard, and Alex Acuna.
It might be easy to dismiss this project as another one-off "supergroup" studio project, in which three great musicians who are well know mainly to musicians and fusion buffs, get together, and slam their competition silly. But this is Niacin's second studio release, and given their continuing commitment and active touring, this recording will leave no doubt they're succeeding in a unique musical chemistry worth believing in. And the music covers a vast range of musical territory and moods, with a fitting balance of cooler moments between episodes of unbridled ferocity, including a beautiful cover of Weather Report's "Birdland."
More startling here are originals penned by Novello and Sheehan, such as the title track and "Who Cares If It's Raining." Sheehan is further sharpening his melodic expression as a soloist on electric bass, and amply carves through complex modal jazz phrasings, demonstrating there's much more to this musician than being a master rock technician who shines in the context of David Lee Roth or Primus. Dennis Chambers, notable for his recent work with John McLaughlin and the Brecker Brothers, reaches far beyond the bounds of a drum clinic – his percussive personality and skill is irrespressible, and the engine which drives a constantly dazzling dynamic of interplay and superb technique. This is primarily an organ trio, and Novello is one of those few electric keyboardists who ranks with Jan Hammer or Keith Emerson both in terms of raw ability and keen musical instincts. Fans of both the progressive rock genre and classic 70s fusion will appreciate both Novello's influences and strong personality, coupled with consistently engaging, nuclear solos and comping (for more on Niacin via the Web, see http://www.aent.com/concord/bios/niacin.html).