OK jazz fans, what d'ya get when you cross Canadian culture with Iranian culture? A back bacon kabob? A genie in a beer bottle? A hockey game where the penalty for icing is decapitation? No, sillies... you get acoustic jazz newcomers Synesthesia, and a promising - but not perfect - self-titled debut album full of sonic influences from around the globe and some SMOKIN' guitar playing. Synesthesia takes a little while to get going, starting off firmly rooted in the quagmire of "smooth jazz," but towards the end of the CD the boys hit stride and show a TON of potential. You can almost hear them improving on every track as you listen.
Canadian guitarist David Martone and Iranian born guitarist Navid Nikbakht are joined by percussionist Christoph Bracher to form the eclectic acoustic jazz band, who are also joined at times from a United Nations-like roster of musicians. Martone and Nikbakht are both incredible guitarists - some of Nikbakht solo runs make Al DiMeola sound like "El Kabong" in comparison (OK, maybe that's a stretch, but you get the point). Unfortunately, with all the talent these two guitarist possess, it takes them a few songs before things get interesting as the first few tracks on the album are squarely rooted in "generic smooth jazz"-land, complete with ersatz R&B drum programming and sultry chord changes. I was beginning to get the feeling of "been there, done that" when out of nowhere I heard beautiful Arabic vocals kick off the fifth track "Intersense," and from that moment on the CD gets better and better with each track.
Let it be said that "Intersense" - in addition to its attractive Arabic-styled violin and vocals - contains on of the fastest guitar runs I have ever heard on a recording. I actually had to rewind the CD a few times to make sure that what I heard was actually what was played - Nikbakht's runs were totally mind blowing! "Intersense" leads into Martone's "way out there" impression of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C# Minor," which starts off with some very atonal acoustic playing before David kicks in some well-placed heavily distorted electric guitar chords to add some power to the piece. Following this piece, the boys briefly descend back into elevator music territory with the Latin-influenced "Sultan Ghalbam"; however, despite this song's predictability, I will say that this cut contains some insanely fast guitar runs that make it worth one's while to sit through the rest of the song.
Following a beautifully played piece by Nikbakht titled "Abadan" is the final - and most compelling - cut on the album, "Voluptuous Vulcan" (Kim Catrall, call your office!). Whereas most of the other tunes on the CD stick to one formula from start to finish, the 15-minute "Vulcan" runs the gamut from Caribbean sounding nylon string passages to the wail of electric guitars, complete with feedback and more string bending than you'll find in a harpist convention. And once you've gotten to the acoustic vs. electric guitar duel towards the end of the song, you'll most definitely be captivated by these two guitarists and their versatility.
Other than a few cookie-cutter smooth jazz compositions, Synesthesia is an excellent debut release from this incredibly talented band. If their next release moves more towards the fusion experimentation of "Voluptuous Vulcan" and avoids being pigeon-holed in the dreadfully predictable world of "smooth jazz", Synesthesia is definitely a band to watch in the future.
Track Listing: 1. Inquisitive Heart (7:11), 2. Shatki (6:06), 3. Conference of the Birds Part II (5:00), 4. Blue (4:10), 5. Intersense (6:20), 6. Prelude in C# Minor (4:50), 7. Sultan Ghalbam (5:32), 8. Abadan (2:33), 9. Voluptuous Vulcan (14:27)
Personnel: Navid Nikbakht: Guitars, Sitar; David Martone: Guitars, Bass, Programming; Christoph Bracher: Percussion, Programming; B.K. Chandrashekhar: Violin (Track 5); Gary Crosby: Bass (Tracks 2,3); Hugh Bullen: Bass (Tracks 1,5); Hussein Farjami: Santour (Track 3); Farnoosh Behzad: Programming, Keyboards; Nenah Reece: Vocals (Track 9)
Record Label: Divan Music
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock