Shredding and art tend to be mutually exclusive by nature, since too many chord crunchers refuse to let the music be more important than they are. It often doesn't help when a member of a well-known group undertakes a solo project, since standing out becomes even more urgent.
John Petrucci avoids the land mines and delivers more depth than many listeners will likely appreciate on 2005's Suspended Animation. Petrucci, a guitarist credited for elevating the heavy metal band Dream Theater into the upper realm of modern groups, brings a melodic presence to hard core instrumentals by drawing on everything from Eddie Van Halen influences to his jazz education at the Berklee College Of Music.
It is, in fact, intriguing to contrast this album with 2004's startlingly different An Evening with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess, a live multi-genre acoustic/electric date with the pianist (the opening is reminiscent of Chick Corea's "Spain ). There's no flamenco in his subsequent electric pyrotechnics, to be sure, but one can hear the same sort of rapid fingering as he sorts through the madness of songs like "Tunnel Vision. Also setting him apart from many in the crowd is a tone that remains clear and distinct even during moments of high-speed indulgence.
Some compositions suffer a bit by following what feels like a market-driven formula for success. "Jaws Of Life is a nonoffensive and rather straight-beat opener that at least lets unsuspecting listeners know what kind of guitar trio this is, but it doesn't do much creatively beyond showing the players are pros. "Wishful Thinking is a requisite classic rock ballad with little of note aside from Petrucci's restraint in allowing sonics to prevail over soloing, at least until some repetitive riffs near the end.
Other songs mix the successful and unsuccessful. "Curve features essentially a four-note hook, but Petrucci interjects solos going far beyond its structure and some play with drummer Tony Verderosa akin to a machine gun cadence (there's also what sounds like an engineering error, as the following track "Interlude is actually the last minute of the song). The twelve-minute closing "Animate-Inanimate is one of the highlights as Petrucci goes well beyond the bounds of rock, breathing short and wide-ranging sax-like jazz phrases and moments of near folkish calm into multiple sonic and rhythm settings.
The jazz audience for Suspended Animation is probably somewhat limited, with those favoring albums like Joe Satriani's Surfing With The Alien an obvious possibility. Its intensity requires close attention to appreciate Petrucci's playing beyond a surface head-banger level, which may be more effort than traditionalists are willing to make. But those indulging in today's jam and acid acts won't find this a far step to take and should be capable of appreciating the guitarist for contributing something to the metal scene beyond noise, leather, and outlandish hair.
Personnel: John Petrucci, guitar; Dave LaRue, bass; Dave DiCenso, drums; Tony Verderosa, acoustic and electronic
drums (Tunnel Vision); Tim LeFebvre, bass (Tunnel Vision)