Back in the 1970s, fusion used to mean one thing; the melding of jazz improvisation and chord structures with the stylistic eclecticism and pure energy of progressive rock. As a recognizable formula emerged, it became common to hear the exotic strains of various ethnic musics in a jazz-rock fusion context. By the late '70s, its emphasis shifted again towards more accessible pop and R&B-derived sounds driven by the economic demands of the time, leaving us with smooth jazz. The 21st century has ushered in a rebirth of fusion, as the style's originatorsmusicians such as keyboardist Chick Corea
and guitarist John McLaughlin
have revisited the style and found it, once again, to their liking. More importantly, a new generation of musicians who were brought up hearing fusion are eager to reinvestigate and elaborate on the adventurous sounds of their youth.
Guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch, the prime artistic forces behind the Chicago-based co-operative fusion band Marbin, go a step further. For them, and for a lot of younger musicians, fusion needn't be just jazz plus rock; it can be jazz plus a lot of differenteven disparate-seemingmusical and stylistic elements. On Last Chapter of Dreaming
, as with its predecessor Breaking the Cycle
(Moonjune Records, 2011), Markovtich and Rabin see pretty much all styles of music as fair game for their highly personal take on fusion. Most prominent in their mix are the keening strains of surf music, Israeli pop, twangy Spaghetti Western movie themes, metal-influenced rock instrumentals (e.g. Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen), and the unassuming lyricism of the Pat Metheny
Group.Last Chapter of Dreaming
can be pretty much divided into two sides of the same coin. Most of the tunes feature the core touring unit of Rabin and Markovitch plus drummer Justyn Lawrence and bassist Jae Gentile. Many of these tracks are of the hard-hitting, über-crunchy rock-fusion variety, with Rabin's insistently virtuosic guitar heroics well out in front. "Blue Fingers," "On The Square," and "Redline" yielding some of the set's most electrifying music. By contrast, the tracks with former Metheny Group drummer Paul Wertico
and bassist Steve Rodby, plus percussionists Jamey Haddad
and Zohar Fresco, have a flowing, graceful lyricism informed by Israeli folk music. These pieces tend to feature Markovitch's hyperactive curved soprano saxophone as the lead voice. Some of the album's more varied and interesting tunes, "Volta," "The Ballad of Daniel White," and "The Way to Riches," combine both approaches.
Unlike a lot of the younger fusioneers and prog-rockers, Marbin tends to eschew dissonance and convoluted song structures in favor of a more tune-based, head-solos-head format. This approach works best on the harder-hitting blues and rock-based tunes, where Rabin's guitar carries the bulk of the melodic and improvisational weight. However, when the focus shifts to Markovitch's saxophone, the music's straightforward emotionality steers it towards an almost cinematic sentimentality that may strike some as excessively saccharine or mawkish. This becomes especially apparent on the album's last few tunes.
Marbin is currently one of the hardest-touring bands around, and its group interaction and improvisational instincts has been honed by countless live performances. Though Last Chapter of Dreaming
contains some spine-tingling improvisational performances, the compositional aspects of Marbin's game could be sharpened a bit.