249

Frank Gambale: Natural High

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Frank Gambale: Natural High Committed fusioners might be disappointed when they read the back cover of shred-meister Frank Gambale's latest release, Natural High. After all, the Aussie guitarist is best-known for his high-volume, high-velocity chops as a member of Chick Corea's Elektric Band and on his own series of albums, including Raison D'être (Wombat, 2004)—which, featuring his innovative Neauveau Tuning, represented both consolidation and departure.

The personnel on Natural High looks promising. Otmaro Ruiz may not be a household name, but he's made significant keyboard contributions to John McLaughlin's Heart of Things touring band and the Robben Ford/Jimmy Haslip/Vinnie Colaiuta collaborative Jing Chi. Bassist Alain Caron is no stranger to fusion fans either—first as founding member of the Canadian '80s fusion group UZEB, later playing with artists like Mike Stern and releasing his own form of cross-pollinated fusion, like 5 (BHM, 2005).

But wait! Where's the drummer? Sure, percussionist Mike Shapiro appears on four of the album's nine tracks, but there's no kit listed. Ruiz is credited only on piano. And Gambale? Acoustic guitar? What's going on here?

Gambale has taken a decided left turn from his usual pedal-to-the-metal work with a mainstream jazz record that fusion fans shouldn't reject on face value. The sound may be organic, and Natural High is the closest thing to a bebop record in Gambale's body of work, but it suffers no drop in energy. While the textures may be acoustic, it's still got the chops-per-second ratio that fusion fans have come to expect from everyone involved. Even the lack of a drummer doesn't detract from the power that's there from start to finish.

Even the most successful fusion players, able to navigate the often complex metric and harmonic shifts that define the genre, need a firm grounding in the jazz tradition, where understanding how to play through changes is essential. The material on Natural High is all Gambale's, but much of it is sourced from the Great American Songbook. "You Are All the Things is a relaxed and swinging re-imagining of "All the Things You Are, with a mind-numbing theme played in unison by Gambale, Ruiz and Caron. "We'll Remember December is an equally comfortable rethinking of "I'll Remember April, while the Latin-inflected version of "Have You Met Tom Jones whimsically reinvents "Have You Met Miss Jones with a humorous reference to the Welsh singer's "It's Not Unusual.

There's plenty of chemistry here. Caron and Ruiz are totally comfortable alternating support duties behind Gambale and doubling his often death-defying lines. At times the trio travels with an uncanny and direct synchronicity; elsewhere the serendipity is more subtle—felt, rather than heard. The trio also proves that formidable technique need not detract from the construction of purposeful and evocative solos.

In many ways Natural High is the Gambale album that his fusion fan base needs to hear—demonstrating the firm but sometimes forgotten link between mainstream jazz and one of its many stylistic descendents.


Track Listing: You Are All the Things; We'll Remember December; D's Living Room; Fortune; The Long and Short of It; Have You Met Tom Jones? Principesa; Scottish Highlands; Another Challenger.

Personnel: Frank Gambale: acoustic guitar; Otmaro Ruiz: piano; Alain Caron: bass; Mike Shapiro: percussion (3,5,7,8).

Title: Natural High | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Wombat


Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Screen Sounds CD/LP/Track Review Screen Sounds
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 20, 2017
Read Rediscovered Ellington CD/LP/Track Review Rediscovered Ellington
by Troy Dostert
Published: August 20, 2017
Read The Bug CD/LP/Track Review The Bug
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 20, 2017
Read Sing Me Some Cry CD/LP/Track Review Sing Me Some Cry
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 20, 2017
Read Masters In Bordeaux CD/LP/Track Review Masters In Bordeaux
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: August 19, 2017
Read On Parade In Parede CD/LP/Track Review On Parade In Parede
by John Sharpe
Published: August 19, 2017
Read "Rising Colossus" CD/LP/Track Review Rising Colossus
by Glenn Astarita
Published: December 28, 2016
Read "Live From A&R Studios New York August 26th 1971" CD/LP/Track Review Live From A&R Studios New York August 26th 1971
by Doug Collette
Published: July 29, 2017
Read "Forever Young" CD/LP/Track Review Forever Young
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 1, 2017
Read "Out 'N' In" CD/LP/Track Review Out 'N' In
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: October 14, 2016
Read "Left" CD/LP/Track Review Left
by John Sharpe
Published: November 22, 2016
Read "Ziljabu Nights - Live at Theater Gutersloh" CD/LP/Track Review Ziljabu Nights - Live at Theater Gutersloh
by Glenn Astarita
Published: March 22, 2017

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.