Alex Machacek: 24 Tales (2010)
It's not the first time guitarist Alex Machacek has composed around drum improvisationhe did that with three tracks on [sic], his 2006 breakout record and first for Abstract Logixbut he's taken the concept even farther on 24 Tales. It's also not the only release to use, as its basis, a 51-minute drum improvisation by Marco MinnemanMachacek's band mate in keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson's UKZ, which debuted in 2009 with the Radiation (Globe Music) EP. Guitarist Mike Keneally, touch guitarist Trey Gunn, and Mars Hollow bassist/guitarist Kerry Chicoine were all given Minneman's metrically and polyrhythmically challenging solo as part of the drummer's Normalizer 2 project as well, but 24 Tales sets the bar incredibly high for everyone else; a true fusion masterpiece that actually surpasses [sic]'s remarkably deep composition and stunning performance.
In a continuous suite broken down into 24 segments, Machacek not only plays variety of guitars, but, as the credits indicate, "everything else" as well. Vocalist Sumitra (Machacek's wife), who sang on [sic]'s more song-oriented "Indian Girl [Meets Austrian Boy]," appears briefly here on the atmospheric "Sit Back and Chillax," overdubbing her wordless vocals to create a soft cushion for Machacek's acoustic slide guitar and surprisingly impressive piano. Martin Ptak layers trombone parts that Machacek then processes and edits into music as redolent of contemporary classicism as it is high powered, strangely Canterbury-esque harmonies on the even shorter "See You There" and "X-Mas" respectively; returning after the multiple personalities of "Feel Me!" (amongst them guitar-driven, high octane rock and gritty funk) for "At the Club," a knottily episodic piece that, at nearly four minutes, is one of 24 Tales' longest tracks and, finally, gives the trombonist a little solo space.
Elsewhere, it's all about what must have taken no small amount of time for Machacek to compose and orchestrate over Minnemann's stunning performance. An album absolutely not to be broken down into individual pieces, there nevertheless are some clear highlights, as the guitarist traverse territory that touches on Zappa-esque complexity, Holdsworthian chordal density, intervallic leaps and sustaining legato phrasing, hints of crunching metal, and an incredible command of tone and texture. While the primary focus is on playing that largely supports the guitarist's conceptually expansive writingthough in order to execute it, he has to demonstrate almost unparalleled techniqueMachacek delivers some succinct but mind-bending solos. Whether he's tapping furiously, picking with remarkable articulation or contributing harmonics that haven't been heard this chime-like since Lenny Breau, Machacek continues to position himself as a masterful improviser with an increasingly distinctive voice that has caught the attention of fusion god John McLaughlin, amongst others.
There's no shortage of humor either, as Machacek adds some dialog over a funky backbone on "Minnemann's in da House," syncing with some of the drummer's fills to discuss the relative ease of working in 13/16. It's 24 Tales' cohesive depth without gravitas or self-indulgence that not only supplants [sic] as Machacek's best album to date, but makes it a sure-fire contender for one of 2010's best.
Track Listing: On your marks...; Sit Back and Chillax; Tour De France; Dancing with the Baby Bear; Anamika; Pros and Cons of Depression; Little Man; Tranquillo; Tranquilizer; Sweet Torture; She likes it; See you there; X-Mas; Feel Me!; At the Club; Eau de Conlon; Doldrums; Minnemans in da House; Run, Fusion!; Air; Sexy; Blender; Quotes; Over and Out.
Personnel: Marco Minnemann: drums; Alex Machacek: guitars and everything else; Sumitra; vocals (2); Martin Ptak: trombone (12, 13, 15).