If there's anyone carrying on Frank Zappa
's legacy today, it's Mike Keneally. A monster guitarist, capable of shredding with the best of them, for many that would be enough. Keneally may have played in Zappa's last touring group before the legendary satirist/composer/guitarist died, too young, in 1993sharing an equally eclectic, unfettered and label-less view of what music can and should bebut it would be unfair to suggest he sounds anything like the man who was an early mentor. In the context of a rock quartet, as on the live Guitar Therapy Live
(Exowax, 2007), he shares Zappa's love of knotty, episodic arrangements, instrumental wizardry and satirical lyrics, even though he largely avoids the apparent scummy humor of some of Zappa's more well-known songs. Like Zappa, too, Keneally's interest in contemporary classical music means he's capable of creating expansive works for larger ensembles, like The Universe Will Provide
(Favored Nations, 2004), a sweeping collaboration with the Dutch Metropole Orkest.
Scambot 1 is one of those career-defining records that marries all of Keneally's interestsor, at least, as many as he can fit in the space of 18 songs and nearly 70 minutes. Recorded over the course of four years with six engineers and sixteen musicians in a number of studios and at home, it's a record that simply couldn't have been created any other way. Rigorous through composition crosses paths with improvisations that create a context for songwriting; quirky miniatures juxtapose with lengthy space for oblique guitar soloing; and styles of all persuasions find a home.
It's nearly impossible to assess what Scambot is; easier to describe what it isn't. There's more than a trace of jazz (the fusion variety) throughout (even a little swing), as Keneally's overdriven solos wind their way through complicated landscapes of sound and rhythmbut it ain't jazz. Progressive rock variants like the Rock in Opposition of Henry Cow have a place here; even a hint of the Canterbury absurdity so prevalent with groups like Hatfield and the North; but it ain't rock. "Gita," the album's penultimate track, is a knotty piece of chamber music that was, in fact, originally commissioned and written as a string quartet for Co de Kloet, the Dutch radio producer who facilitated the meeting of Keneally and Metropole; but, again, it ain't classical. And who but Keneally would write a countrified song like "Cold Hands" with irregular meters abounding and a middle section so complex?
De Kloet shows up on the album, as do Keneally's band mates from Guitar Therapy, and select members of Metropole. But at the core of Scambot 1the first of a proposed trilogyis Keneally, who plays the lion's share of the instruments throughout, with the help of UKZ's Marco Minneman, who adds drums on nearly half the disc. Scambot 1's story will have to be wait for a later review, but the majority of the album is instrumental, and for fans of highly eclectic, rock-inflected music with hints of prog, Zappa, RIO and fusion, it rarely gets any better than this.
Personnel: Mike Keneally: vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, piano, drums, percussion; Co de Lkoet: voice (1); Marco Minneman: drums (2, 3, 6, 11-13, 17, 18); Evan Francis: saxophones (3, 15), clarinets (3), flutes (3); Herman can Haaren: electric violin (4); Marc Scholten: alto saxophone (4); Leo Jansen: tenor saxophone (4); Ruud Breuls: trumpet (4); Bart van Lier: trombone (4); Peter Tiehuis: guitar (4); Hans Vroomans: acoustic and electric piano (4); Murk Jiskoot: percussion (4); Bryan Beller: bass (4, 9, 15), acoustic bass (18); Arno van Nieuwenhizen: drums (4); Jesse Keneally: vocals (7); Rick Musallam: wah-wah guitar (9), guitar (15); Joe Travers: drums (9, 15).