Tribal Tech: X (2012)
According to guitarist Scott Henderson, Tribal Tech never broke up; the band's work simply halted in 2000 when bassist Gary Willis moved to Spain. Henderson, keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington continued to play in each others' respective projects in the following years. The first whispers of reunion came in 2009, and subsequently gathered force. Finally, a year after re-locking horns in thirty improvised jams and twelve years since Rocket Science (Tone Center, 2000), the doyens of modern fusion return with X, an energetic set of memorable tunes and wonderful individual and collective playing.
Though born of jams, there's significant post-production composition on most tracks. In this sense, the construction of the music follows in the footsteps of trumpeter Miles Davis and producer/composer Teo Macero, though on X, Tribal Tech certainly calls the changes with more frequency than Davis did on Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970). The grooving jazz-rock of "Let's Get Swung" is most evocative of Davis circa Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971), though ironically, it's the most organic of the lota burning jam that could have run and run.
While plenty of file sharing and overdubbing went on, the original jams were thrashed out live in the studio, and there's a resultant, inescapable chemistry at the core. Henderson, Kinsey and Willis each produced three tracks, and their respective calling cards are easy to identify. Henderson's "Mech X" begins with a space-rock intro reminiscent of the Ozric Tentacles, with Covington's fat beat to the fore. Henderson's blues-metal voice is more measured (and more melodic) on X than on earlier Tribal Tech albums, but he still sends up plenty of sparks; his solo here is a case in point.
"Got Faith 'n' Phat" is a sizzling, mid-tempo funk workout; Henderson carves the melody, with Kinsey's keys providing horn-like counterpoint. The keyboardist's solo contains the funk and soul of 1970s Stevie Wonder. The brooding, bop-flavored "Time Lapse" feels more structured. It is peppered with fine solos from Henderson, Kinsey and Willis, book-ended by a highly melodic head. An easy vibe infuses the pretty, bass-driven "Anthem," with Willis at his most lyrical; the quartet shift up a gear, led from the front by Henderson's driving playing. The beautiful ballad, "Palm Moon Plaza," smolders quietly by comparison, and provides a measure of pause in an otherwise lively collection.
The bubbling grooves of "Gravity" contain the melodic invention of keyboard player Joe Zawinul. Kinsey is a worthy heir to the great Zawinul, and his repeated two-note motif on the satisfying "Working Blue," while simplicity itself, demonstrates the power of the right notes in the right place. Henderson switches to electric sitar on the atmospheric "Ask Me a Question," an instant Tribal Tech classic. The closer, "Corn Butter," is a contender for funk track of the year.
Never known as a prolific touring band, it's a distinct possibility that Tribal Tech won't hit the road in support of X. However, should the band simply continue to record every couple of years in lieu of performing live, we should still thank our lucky stars.
Track Listing: Mech X; Got Faith 'n' Phat; Time Lapse; Anthem; Palm Moon Plaza; Gravity; Working Blue; Ask Me a Question; Let's Get Swung; Corn Butter.
Personnel: Scott Henderson: guitar; Gary Willis: bass; Scott Kinsey: keyboards; Kirk Covington: drums.
Record Label: Tone Center