David "Fuze" Fiuczynski, an accomplished sideman and bandleader, is not a jazz musician in any ordinary sense. He’s a distortion-heavy shredder, a string bender, a master of fractured, dissonant guitar pyrotechnics. Yet he’s got the sensibilities, and the résumé, of a jazzman. JazzPunk, his first solo release, almost entirely consists of non-original material drawn from a short list of his idols and/or past and present employers. It’s a hyper-eclectic menu: Metheny, Hendrix, Chopin, Ronald Shannon Jackson, George Russell, Chick Corea, Strayhorn/Ellington, Sousa, and Jack Walrath. Somehow it all comes out sounding like David Fiuczynski music, which really says something about the strength of this musical personality.
"Fuze" and his colleagues are at their best when laying down the funk. But their funk is multifarious, not the same old groove over and over. Shannon Jackson’s "Red Warrior" is one species — hats off to Gene Lake’s hell-raising drums and Daniel Sadownick’s percussion. George Russell’s "African Game Fragment" and the collectively composed "Jungle Gym Jam" represent another species, one with pronounced references to tripped-out electronica. Chick’s "La Fiesta," in addition, features some of the hottest playing on the date.
The album’s funniest moment is "Stars & Stripes Whenever," a vaguely subversive reading of Sousa’s patriotic march and perhaps a twenty-first century update of Hendrix’s "Star-Spangled Banner." On the tender side, well, "Star-Crossed Lovers" is as tender as it gets. Fuze gives even Strayhorn and Ellington the whammy treatment, making the melody sound like an old, warped record. The chord changes are dead-on accurate, however, and as the track plays on, it becomes clear that Johnny Hodges’s bent-and-slurred approach to melody, while more elegant in the traditional sense of the word, is the inspiration for Fuze’s wobbly deconstruction.
A few things distinguish Fuze from the rest of today’s guitar crowd. His sound is consistently dry — devoid of reverb and delay — which is highly unusual for electric players coming up in the wake of Mike Stern and Pat Metheny. His intermittent use of fretless guitar also sets him apart, enabling him to phrase in ways that are otherwise impossible. Fiuczynski’s mix of formidable musicianship and off-the-wall mischief brings to mind another musician/guitarist, the late Frank Zappa, whose work often felt like one long gag. At times Fiuczynski’s work feels that way too — long on playfulness, short on emotional depth. One gets the sense that if he were to just cool out, even for a minute or two, he’d open the door to a more expansive range of moods.
Tracks: 1. Bright Size Life 2. Third Stone from the Sun 3. Prelude Opus 28, No. 4 4. Red Warrior 5. African Game Fragment 6. La Fiesta 7. Star-Crossed Lovers 8. Jungle Gym Jam 9. Stars & Stripes Whenever 10. Hipgnosis.
Personnel: David Fiuczynski, fretted and fretless guitars, arrangements; Fima Ephron, bass (2, 4, 6); Tim Lefebvre, bass (1, 5, 8); Santi Debriano, bass (7, 9); Gene Lake, drums (2, 4, 6); Zach Danziger, drums (1, 5, 8); Billy Hart, drums (3, 7, 9, 10); Daniel Sadownick, percussion (2, 4, 6); Rufus Cappadocia, cello (10).