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Naming themselves after a favorite Jean-Luc Ponty album, Aurora comes across quickly and clearly as a very capable jazz fusion group. Shroom Productions presents us with yet more of little-known, late ‘70s fusion gems right out of Texas, USA. Aurora’s Martin McCall (drums) and Mark Menikos (violin) both gigged briefly with the fusion group Hands. Add talented guitarist, Skip Sorelle, highly adept bassist Roy Vogt, and John Sharp on keys and you have Aurora.
22 years ago this group opened many times for such greats as Larry Coryell but eventually band member visions clashed and other more profitable venues lured each away from Aurora making the fusion mainstream. This saddens and surprises me as Aurora really had their act together and was nearly on the same level of talent of any of those early Jean-Luc Ponty releases. In places you can hear Mahavishnu Orchestra unison runs, (“Opus 8"), and the keyboards of Passport or Tony Williams’ Lifetime, (“Within”).
Sorelle’s guitar work is adequately jazz rock in unison lines but his soloing never gets close to the fiery fusion level of the likes of ‘70s-era Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin or Bill Connors. He’s a solid technician in riffing but the soulfired abandon and wild excursions that excite are lacking. That same violin-dominant formula of Ponty releases is clearly here in Menikos’ role in Aurora. He writes 50% of the material and his soloing is the clear strength of Aurora. Sharp and Sorelle each offer a couple of compositions but Menikos always steals the show. Aurora covers one Ponty tune, “Polyfolk Dance” and does a fine job of it.
Choice cuts are the 11:51 “Opus 8" where everybody excels at all times, Sharp’s “Within” with keys extraordinaire, and Sorelle’s “Dancing on a Plain in Spain” with killer bass by Vogt. Menikos waxed extremely Urbaniak on this piece. The extended jam/ outro was very Al Di Meola and Jan Hammer. I could go on but I end here to say . . . Highly recommended fringe-zone fusion, grab this one.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.