Spectrum Road: Spectrum Road (2012)
Pure power takes precedence over finesse on Spectrum Road, but just barely. On this tribute to late drummer Tony Williams' groundbreaking fusion band Lifetime, guitarist Vernon Reid, keyboardist John Medeski, bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana offer just enough respite from an otherwise nonstop sonic assault of just under an hour.
"Vuelta Abajo" sets the general tone as the foursome unabashed thrashes away for a little over five minutes. The ex-Cream bassist, who was actually a member of Williams' Lifetime in 1970, is the lynchpin of the quartet conceptually and instrumentally. The taut lines from his instrument lace together the guitar lines and organ where those instrumental parts otherwise might result in fission instead of fusion. Blackman- Santana, who chips in with some ethereal singing prior to the spontaneous combustion of "Where," is remarkably restrained in the midst of this cacophony, choosing to play with a (comparative) deliberation that allows at least one cool head to prevail during the course of the album's ten tracks.
That said, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid doesn't just indulge himself; he makes his instrument truly sing as it takes prominence during "Coming Back Home," while his frenetic shredding elsewhere, as on the aforementioned "Where," evinces a fiery exhilaration. Medeski, too, assumes a less brainy and more visceral approach than with Billy Martin and Chris Wood in Medeski, Martin & Wood, tellingly confining himself to just Hammond B3 organ and mellotron in part, no doubt, to invoke the late sixties/early seventies period in which most of this music was created.
Recorded in just four days in February 2011, engineered and produced by Matt Balitsaris, there's enough loyalty to the source of Spectrum Road without undermining the spontaneity of the moment(s). Apart from a single group-composed original, the ever-so-delicate "Blues for Tillman, " the CD is comprised of duly noted selections from the Lifetime discography; fortunately, "Wild Life" immediately follows the pedestrian "Allah Be Praised" to provide a fitting conclusion to the album. There's also a moody arrangement of the traditional "An-T-eilan Muileach" that, sequenced mid-album, provides a relatively peaceful pivot point, not to mention an opportunity for Spectrum Road, the band, to demonstrate that the major source of its momentum is the self-discipline by which its members manage it.
Would that each member of the band demonstrated a similar restraint in the essays that fill the triple-fold glossy digipak. Then again, their somewhat verbose expression of devotion to this music and each other helps illuminate the inspiration at the heart of this project. Rather, the four relegate their intellectualizing to their prose instead of their playingwhich, if Spectrum Road thought about it too much, would most definitely not course with the muscular strength within tracks such as "Vashkar."
Track Listing: Vuelta Abajo; There Comes A Time; Coming Back Home; Where; An t-Eilean Muileach; Vashkar; One Word; Blues for Tillmon; Allah Be Praised; Wild Life.
Personnel: Jack Bruce: bass, vocals; John Medeski: organ, mellotron; Vernon Reid: guitar; Cindy Blackman Santana: drums, vocal.
Record Label: Palmetto Records