Despite a varied series of projects, prolific master drummer Michael Shrieve has maintained a comparatively low profile since his days as a member of the original Santana
band. But with the reunion of that ensemble, the time's certainly right for him to step directly into the limelight with Spellbinder, which, even it doesn't exhibit the same deep-rooted fire and ingenuity of Shrieve's higher-profile ensemble, is almost as challenging as it is accessible.
As great a name as is 'Spellbinder' for an album and a band, it only hints at the visceral sensation(s) that ultimately compel such rapture, particularly as they emanate right from the start of "Pop Raladrao." The pulsing rhythms are only slightly less frenzied on "One," but the quick back and forth turns from guitarist Danny Godinez and keyboardist Joe Doria maintain an insistent pace on this track.
There will be listeners who find Shrieve & co's sound a bit too reminiscent of latter-day Santana on a track such as "I Don't Believe You," particularly when John Fricke's trumpet enters the mix to evoke Santana III
(Columbia, 1971), but Spellbinder does sufficiently distinguish itself as a streamlined five-piece wholly instrumental ensemble because they maintain their stylistic focus. It also helps immeasurably that the recording quality on this album is as spacious as it is clear, all the better to hear the bandleader's hard-hitting playing, but also to sense the tactile presence of the other instruments on this languid reading of Monty Alexander's "Renewal."
Because Michael Shrieve also spearheads Drums of Compassion and Trilon, projects in which he and collaborators (including saxophonist Skerik and percussionist Mike Dillon) explore the universe of ambient sound, it should perhaps come as no surprise there's precious little of that approach on Spellbinder. Yet nothing on this record sounds forced, whether it's one of Doria's originals such as "Deliverance" or a traditional titled "Triloni," and there's not just an abundance of energy emanating from this record, it's marshaled and dispersed in such quick-minded fashion it translates directly to the sounds of the instruments themselves: these tight arrangements carry a unmistkable spontaneity.
That subtle force, for instances, arises directly from the acoustic guitars at the foundation of "1902," particularly as the sounds of the carefully-picked strings interweaves with keyboards and horn to create an authentic Spanish mood. Marking the point within the eleven tracks where the momentum begins to elevate perceptibly, the rise in intensity is almost but not quite indiscernible on "Grump."
Yet the way the band navigates the tricky changes of "Market," allowing a dramatic swirl of instruments to unfurl, is equally ear-catching (as well as motivation to move the body). Therein lies the truth in the name of this band and this record.