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Synergy's Bar Codes is a highly enjoyable fusion excursion that makes for great drive-time or social listening. All of the musicians are quite technically adept and show impeccable musicianship, and they temper their talents with a comfortable restraint that makes the disc more than just another chops-flaunting festival. Berklee alumnus Mike Brannon and company create music that's clearly for enjoying over and over again.
I imagine that guitarist Brannon has been influenced by the likes of Mike Stern, Pat Metheny and John Scofield over the years, as flavors of all their styles and more can be detected on the disc. But he's not content to merely copy or pay homage; Brannon listens, learns, applies and moves on to his own personal beat. While Bar Codes might not be as improv-heavy as some listeners would prefer, the disc is loaded with truly entertaining music of refreshing originality. The themes are as well-crafted as any heard in contemporary jazz today. Among the standout performers are the fleet-fingered Brannon, Jeff Coffin (saxophonist with Bela Fleck's band), and King Crimson Stick-player Trey Gunn, who performs here on the Warr touch-guitar.
Tenorist Richard Potter shines on the first track, Prowl, conveying the funky spirit of Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington, Jr. over drummer Darren Kuper's stout backbeat. The electronic sounds on Emulator seethe and scintillate, while Double Standards is delicately pretty. Dave Foster's Jacoesque fretless growl and throb is appropriately up-front on the tender Change of Plans. Brannon digs deep into his San Antonio roots on Habit, closing out the disc with a bluesy bounce booted along by Andy Langham's organ. And just when you think it's over, wait for 4:33 to roll around on that track! This band delivers in spades. I hope to hear much more from Synergy in the future. As it is, Bar Codes has rarely left my carousel in the past few weeks.
Track Listing: Prowl; Emulator; Tripod; Double Standards; Bar Codes; Change of Plans; Recon; Perspective; You Know; Habit.
Personnel: Mike Brannon, guitar; Dave Foster, electric bass; Darren Kuper, drums; Greg Norris, acoustic bass; Anthony Bazzani, piano, Rhodes, organ, clavinet; Andy Langham, organ, clavinet, keyboards, Rhodes; Dave Eskridge, piano, keyboards; Jeff Coffin, soprano sax; Trey Gunn, 8-string Warr touch guitar; Rich Potter, tenor sax, EWI.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.