Alex Machacek / Jeff Sipe / Matt Garrison: Improvision (2007)
With two of 2006's best fusion records and three fine releases already out in 2007, Abstract Logix is rapidly transitioning from online storefront to bonafide record label. Austrian-born, Los Angeles-based guitarist Alex Machacek's [sic] (2006) was a stunning album that, along with the kind of virtuoso playing that would send most guitarists running for the hills, established the 35 year-old as an equally impressive composer and conceptualist.
Machacek shares equal billing with bassist Matt Garrison and drummer Jeff Sipe on the looser, more improvisational Improvision. Garrisona member of John McLaughlin's late-1990s Heart of Things group and Herbie Hancock's Future2Future (Transparent, 2001) touring bandis probably the best-known, while Sipe has garnered considerable attention for his work with another uber-bassist, Jonas Hellborg, and the late guitarist Shawn Lane. Together, Machacek, Garrison and Sipe create music where the collective result is far more important than any single member's contributions.
That's not to say there's not plenty of impressive individual playing. Machacek tears it up on the brief but complex "Along Came a Spider," as does Garrison, while Sipe manages a fine line between holding down the groove and adding his own imaginative voice to the conversation. Machacek's playing has its roots in Allan Holdsworth, sharing a similar penchant for legato phrasing and closed voicings, but he's no less distinctive. Garrison is one of the most important electric bassists on the scene, avoiding the obvious influences that remain on the sleeves of so many of his peers. A frighteningly nimble soloist, he manages to be a frontline melodic and contrapuntal partner with Machacek while, like Sipe, not neglecting his role as rhythmic anchor.
Much of Improvision comes from spontaneous jams and open-ended yet harmonically rich writing that Machacek then shaped in post-production. The funk groove at the tail end of "Gem 1," which ranges from the kind of free play most won't associate with fusion to a fiery pulse and frenzied solo from Machacek, segues into the more jam-based "Gem 2." Machacek's guitar synth on the frenetic "'There's a New Sheriff in Town" references Tribal Tech, but the melodiesand they are melodicare more knotty and idiosyncratic.
As important as everyone's "how do they do that"' contributions are to Improvision, it's the trio's equal penchant for restraint that distinguishes it. The brief "To Whom It May Concern" is a dark and spacious duet for Machacek and Garrison that wouldn't be out of place on an ECM record. The same can be said for the lengthier "'Very Sad," where Sipe's support for both Garrison's limber solo and Machacek's sparer turn is compelling in its sheer economy and intuition.
As impressive as [sic] remains, the more egalitarian Improvision is another step forward for a kind of intelligent fusion that juxtaposes inspired soloing with near-telepathic interplay and imaginative writing. A sure bet for 2007 best-of lists, the biggest hope is that Machacek, Garrison and Sipe make this an ongoing collective rather than a one-time affair.
Visit Alex Machacek, Jeff Sipe and Matt Garrison on the web.
Track Listing: There's a New Sheriff in Town; Along Came a Spider; Shona; Gem 1; Gem 2; To Whom It May Concern; Yoga for Cats Part 1; Yoga for Cats Part 2; Very Sad; Matt's Riff; Put Me Back to Sleep.
Personnel: Alex Machacek: guitar, guitar synth; Matt Garrison: bass; Jeff Sipe: drums.
Record Label: Abstract Logix