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Trevor Rabin: All Colors Considered

By Published: November 26, 2012
Rabin really threw himself down a gauntlet with regard to the wide range of styles he incorporates on Jacaranda; classical motifs give way to heavy rock riffs, contemporary jazz rubs shoulders with searing shredding, and progressive rock fuses with more pastoral themes. One song can slide between several genres as it evolves, but it's the effortless movement between genres that most impresses. Rabin's quietly satisfied with the way the arrangements turned out. "Though it wasn't present in my mind while I was doing the album, at the end I was pretty proud that here was this demographic nightmare of different styles which really have nothing to do with each other, yet they really worked well together, so I'm happy."

Fans of Rabin the guitarist will be thrilled to hear his playing on Jacaranda, as he's simply never sounded this good. However, it took just a little sweat for his ring-rusty technique to catch up to the level of his writing. "Most of the music was written," explains Rabin. "I wrote the piano piece 'Kilarney,' but I couldn't play it. I had to practice for quite a while to get it. I practiced a lot on the piano, acoustic guitar and the Dobro. I really had to get my chops together."

"Kilarney 1 & 2" is a delightful piano piece that may come as a surprise to many who are unfamiliar with Rabin's classical training. Right at the end of the composition, Rabin added a little classical guitar, and one wonders if it was a question of fixing something that wasn't broken in the first place. "It actually was just a solo piano piece," says Rabin, "but I kept thinking about adding this guitar. When I hear it without the guitar, it's somehow cleaner and perhaps more natural from start to finish. It's a very good question. It's the first time I've been asked it. It might have been better without guitar; I'm not sure."

Much of the music on Jacaranda in fact, is heavily colored by classical music, which seems to exert the greatest influence on Rabin. "Oh yeah, more than anything else," says Rabin categorically. "I would say 80 percent of my time is spent listening to classical music, baroque music, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and so on, but now I'm completely hooked on Schoenberg and Hindemith. It's such amazing music. A lot of it is atonal but still with amazing melodic sensibility."

Rabin has some advice for musicians who wonder how to expand their vocabulary. "It's fine to only be into one genre," he says, "but if you're, say, a jazz musician strictly, but you spend some time listening to bluegrass or classical, some of it is going to infiltrate you and hopefully make your jazz approach somewhat different. As long as it's good and well-played, all music is worth listening to. There's a lot of rock music which they say is classically influenced, whether it's Genesis or Yes, but none of it really compares with the great classical composers. The sophistication of some of the classical composers, their genius—those guys were nuts."

One track on Jacaranda which harks back to former days is "Market Place," which, with its classical vein, progressive-rock riffs and swirling keyboard, has more than a hint of Yes about it. "I think anywhere you go, it's going to have an influence on you," Rabin acknowledges. "Years ago, I did a solo album called Wolf (Chrysalis Records, 1981); I played some bass, and Jack Bruce
Jack Bruce
played on a number of tracks. I didn't realize it until later, but every time I'd do a bass thing, I'd think, 'Oh my goodness, I've been influenced by Jack, and he only spent a week with me.' Having spent that long with Yes, it was clearly going to rub off on me."

Though Rabin remains on good terms with his former Yes band mates, the beginning of the story wasn't quite the way Rabin had envisaged it. "When I joined the band, the intention wasn't for it to be Yes. All the songs on 90125 (Atco, 1983) were basically songs I had written for a solo album, but I was dropped by the label before I could do the solo album, and I eventually ended up with these guys [bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White], and it was called Cinema. But then [Yes vocalist] Jon Anderson heard it, liked it very much and came on board. I didn't know whether to be sad for being fired as the singer or just to be excited for what Jon brought to it."

Shortly before joining what would become yet another reincarnation of Yes, Rabin had signed a development deal with record executive David Geffen, which took Rabin out to L.A. after having parted company with Chrysalis after three albums. Rabin held no grudges towards the legendary label. "I had no complaints about Chrysalis. They were fantastic, and hats off to them to have lasted three albums," he says. At the time, Rabin was producing Manfred Mann as well as writing. Geffen heard Rabin's material—what would go on to become the multimillion selling 90125—and signed him for a development deal.

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