With a collective resume that ranges from the ostentatious stadium rock of David Lee Roth and Mr. Big to the fusion of John Scofield and John McLaughlin, the members of Niacinkeyboardist John Novello, bassist Billy Sheehan, and drummer Dennis Chambersclearly have chops to spare. What's remarkable about their sixth release, Organik, is the unbelievable high level of energy maintained throughout. By the time the hour-long program is over, even the most indefatigable listener will be spent and exhausted. It's a wonder that Niacin, after nearly ten years together, isn't feeling the inevitable onset of aging; but if anything, Organik manages to kick the level up a notch or ten from the group's last release, the live Blood, Sweat and Beers (Magna Carta, 2000).
While essentially an organ trio, Niacin is a far cry from groups like Medeski, Martin and Wood. MMW may be a jam band with roots that reach equally far and wide, but they come from a deep understanding of the jazz language. While Chambers has demonstrated a clear ability to work within the jazz tradition, Niacin is as much a product of progressive rock as it is fusion. Niacin, in fact, sounds a lot how Emerson, Lake and Palmer might have, had Lake been a more virtuosic bassist and Palmer a drummer who, in addition to demonstrations of lightning speed, could actually play groove and keep consistent time. There are hints of the same kind of mind-numbing speed-playing and progressive leanings of ELP at their prime on tracks like "4'5 3, the exhausting "Barbarian @ The Gate, and the Spanish-leaning "Super Grande.
While bombast and excess are two words commonly associated with progressive rock and fusionand Niacin is unapologetically overblown much of the timeit's hard not to be drawn into the group's unrelentingly powerful world. There are few moments of respite, with the funky first half of "Magnetic Food merely a subterfuge to lull the listener into relative calm before a kinetic, double-time middle section. And Sheehan, Novello, and Chambers often deliver more notes per second than would appear humanly possible. But as hyperactive as these players may be, the one thing that they cannot be accused of being is superfluous.
While the compositions often feature shifts in meter and tempo"The Hair of the Dog is a prime examplethey always make perfect sense. Novello and Sheehan, who write the lion's share of the music, don't paste together mere pastiches of disjointed ideas. Instead, they endow a logic and flow upon even the most complex and knotty writing.
Sheehan's often been called "the Van Halen of the bass and for good reason. But like Chambers, whose dexterity remains frightening, he's also ready to settle into a groove, albeit most often a high octane one. And Novello's wealth of sonic textures is almost unprecedented.
Those who believe subtlety and understatement are key aspects of good music would be well advised to avoid Organik. But for those who like it in-your-face, unrepentant, and hyper-kinetic, Niacin is just the ticket.
Visit Billy Sheehan, John Novello, Dennis Chambers, and Niacin on the web.
Personnel: Billy Sheehan: bass; John Novello: Hammond B-3, piano, rhodes; Dennis Chambers: drums.