Painted Rock is the latest offering from the powerhouse fusion/jazz/prog band, “Tunnels” featuring midi vibraphonist Marc Wagnon, legendary fretless bass master Percy Jones, multi-talented guitarist Van Manakas and the superhuman-like drummer, Frank Katz. Here, the band serve up as to what may be viewed upon as a logical extension of their powerful freshman and recently reissued release, Tunnels with Percy Jones (see Jan’00 AAJ reviews).
The band commence the proceedings like a well-oiled machine on the title track, “Painted Rock” which is a straight up hard rocker and features a slightly ominous underlying theme. Here, vibraphonist Wagnon disperses bright colors via his thunderous lines and counterbalancing rhythmic work which sets the stage for Manakas’ fleet-fingered lead soloing as this piece is all about barn-burning rock alongside dazzling jazzy motifs. On the “Land of the Hazmats”, Manakas and Wagnon aim towards the stratosphere amid a few wittily conceived time signatures as the band seemingly prod the listener into snapping his or her fingers to the solid rhythms yet catch you off guard with spurts of modern jazz type improvisation. On occasion the band, or presumably either Manakas and/or Wagnon inject unearthly sounding synth backwashes or redevelop a concept through keen improvisation and an overall cunning thematic approach which is apparent throughout.
It’s not all about pyrotechnics as it just emanates rather naturally on such pieces as “House of Marc” where bassist nonpareil Percy Jones pursues inventive passages and performs as if the bass were an appendage of his physical being or Frank Katz’ massive polyrhythmic attack on “Neuro-Transmitter”. On this piece, the band proceed as a hybrid Prog-Metal band with leanings toward Frank Zappa and mainstream jazz via rapid unison lines, ferocious hard-edged guitar leads by Manakas coupled with a blazing swing/free jazz interlude. The musicians are in top improvisational form on the lengthy piece titled, “Bad American Dream 2001” complete with midi-synth effects, traces of jazz, avant-garde motifs supported by Jones’ pumping bass lines and Katz’ throttling drum work. We must add that “Tunnels” are not a band who convey overbearing or self-absorbing complexities. Many of these pieces are assembled around shapely or organized tempi and meter as they provide ample room for soloing opportunities yet not in a restrictive or austere sense. The band’s inviting diversities shine on the acoustic/electric piece “Boyz In The Ud” which features a migration of Western - Middle Eastern - North Indian motifs. Marc Wagnon performs an exhilarating solo on the no nonsense balls to the walls thriller, titled “Lilly’s Dolphin” as Frank Katz unleashes his power drumming fury on the adrenaline induced drum solo and closer, “Unity Gain”. At this juncture it is time for all parties to take a deep breath and unwind from this roller coaster ride of a journey as we regain our senses and take a stab at reality for a second or two. Painted Rock is an express train with no stops along the way as the music is pure, untainted and gets you to your destination in rapid fashion, yet the key ingredient here is the sustained and altogether gratifying entertainment value, featuring loads of impact! - (One of the top releases of the year) * * * * *
Marc Wagnon; Vibes: Percy Jones; Fretless Bass: Van Manakas; Guitar: Frank Katz; Drums
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