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Synergy: Later

John Kelman By

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Synergy may be a collective in name, but it's really the brainchild of guitarist Mike Brannon. With keyboardist Andy Langham the only carryover from 2000's Barcodes, Brannon handles all compositional/arrangement duties on Later, barring the title track, co-arranged by Brannon and drummer Gerry Gibbs. Like Barcodes there are a number of high profile guests on this set—this time bassist Harvie S, saxophonist Bill Evans, and drummer Paul Wertico—making Brannon's fluid guitar the only constant throughout the twelve-song, 44-minute set.

Brannon's focus is rarely virtuosic, but he stretches out into broader territory this time around. His primary influences are still there—Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, and John Scofield topping the list. Still, there's a greater eclecticism at work, with Brannon providing acoustic respite from the more energetic electric pieces. The spacious and bittersweet Leo Kottke-informed solo piece "September 28th contrasts with the similarly informed but more rhythmically insistent "Just Like Now, where Brannon layers an electric sitar solo, providing greater insight into his not inconsiderable jazz chops. The bluesy "Loose Ends completes a trio of acoustic pieces that, situated in the middle of the set, break up the pace, but don't defeat it.

Harvie S, Paul Wertico, and Bill Evans are all onboard for the two opening tracks on Later. "Vision/FYI manages to be lyrical and fiery; a fitting homage to the late saxophonist Bob Berg, originally slated to play on the piece before his fatal car crash in December, 2002—although Evans turns in an equally passionate and articulate solo. For those who only know Wertico from his fifteen-year stint with the Pat Metheny Group, his funky second-line rhythm on "Gumbo will come as a surprise, though anyone who has followed his own career knows his capabilities extend well beyond his cymbal-heavy work for the iconic guitarist. Harvie S and Paul Wertico provide more delicate accompaniment to Brannon's atmospheric "String Theory —with S delivering an elegantly melodic solo—as well as with more vigor on "Harvie's Blues, which closes the disc.

Only three tracks feature Synergy the quartet, and what Gibbs, Langham and bassist Brandon Rivas lack in star power, they more than make up for with a stylistic broad-mindedness equal to Brannon's. The Metheny-esque Americana of "Scratch, featuring both Rivas and Brannon stretching while remaining faithful to the song's folksy core, contrasts with the funkier and more harmonically jazz-centric title track, with Brannon's most fleet-fingered solo of the set, and a surprisingly swinging solo spot for Langham signalling a return to greasier territory before segueing into the brief but high-velocity "Parking Space.

The delay-driven dark ambience of Brannon's solo electric piece "Dream Sequence leads into the more optimistic "Crosstalk, another folksy excursion with Brannon on electric—this time in duet with Wertico—proof that less can certainly be more. Brannon may not have the staggering technique of his influences, but his musical instincts are always reliable, making Later an appealing listen that's sure to win him new fans in addition to satisfying listeners already acquainted with him through Barcodes.


Track Listing: Vision/FYI (for Bob Berg); Gumbo (for New Orleans); String Theory (for Mike Brecker); Scratch; September 28th; Just Like Now; Loose Ends; Later; Parking Space; Dream Sequence; Crosstalk; Harvie's Blues.

Personnel: Mike Brannon: guitars, electric sitar; Bill Evans: tenor saxophone (1 2); Harvie S: acoustic bass (1-3,12); Brandon Rivas: acoustic bass (4,8,9); Paul Wertico: drums (1-3,11,12); Gerry Gibbs: drums (4,8,9); Andy Langham: keyboards (4,8,9).

Title: Later | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Nextep Records


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