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If there’s one thing you learn from listening to a lot of prog/rock/fusion music, it’s that lightning-fast guitar players are a dime a dozen. Listeners are generally impressed the first couple of times they hear a nimble fingered axeman set their fretboard on fire, but after you realize that there’s a ton of similar guitarists out there cutting CDs you begin to get a bit jaded. This causes the listener to begin looking for traits other than speed to set guitar players apart. The reason I’m bring this up is because when I first fired up Jeff Kollman’s latest CD Shedding Skin I thought to myself “Great, another amphetamine-fingered guitarist with an entire hour to kill noodling pointlessly with his instrument.” However, after listening to the first few tracks I realized that Jeff Kollman is a shredder with “the difference” – that difference being that he can actually write a catchy tune and gets enough variance in his guitar sound to keep things interesting through most of Shedding Skin.
Kollman’s latest release teams him up with master drummer Shane Gaalaas, and a host of guest musicians filling bass and piano duties. The album starts off with a nice acoustic riff introducing the title cut, but before long you realize you’re in for more of a heavy-metal ride as Kollman kicks in the overdrive and begins a frantic sonic journey that has he, Gaalaas, and bassist Ray Reindeau tearing through Dream Theater-esque metal runs as if there was no tomorrow. Reindeau contributes some spine tingling bass licks, and Gaalaas establishes early on that he’s a drumming force to be reckoned with. After the opening track, Kollman loses focus somewhat with two less-than-stellar tracks – “Fat, Mean, and Nasty” which contains a lot of pointless noodling, and “Blues for Pop” which is a standard Stevie Ray Vaughn type roadhouse jam. However, after those two sonic hiccups, Kollman really catches stride.
The middle of the album features a diverse selection of styles including Fripp-like Soundscapes on “The Subconscience,” a tribute to metal-prog stawarts Kings X called “The X Factor” (you’ll swear that’s Ty Tabor on the rhythm parts), and a beautiful acoustic piece in “Intimate Portrait.” The metal-tinged “Sheer Drama” has Kollman serving up some wicked sounds from his axe as Gaalaas bashes away at the skins with reckless abandon, complete with some Slayer-esque double bass drum fills. “My Soul Deep Inside” is a very soothing jazzy piece with some excellent and tastefully done piano work performed by Dale Grisa. However, the track that steals the show on Shedding Skin has got to be “Journey Through Life,” which features a seriously mellow California-style groove coupled with Kollman’s laying down of some of the most incredibly melodic solos I’ve heard in quite some time. Kollman really gives an emotional and very effective performance on this track.
Unfortunately, things begin to unravel a bit towards the end of the disc, with Kollman taking an unfortunate foray into lounge jazz territory with the embarrassing “The Color for Love.” Shedding Skin ends with a whimper rather than a bang with three nondescript exercises in self-important showing off that completely destroy the mood that was set by the tunes in the middle of the disc. It’s a shame that self-restraint couldn’t be maintained through the entire disc, but that is a lot to ask of musicians of this caliber.
Overall, despite a few wrong musical turns, Shedding Skin is a very solid piece of instrumental metal-fusion. Kollman – more so than most of his counterparts – really knows how to write a pleasant melody when he sets his mind to it, and that fact coupled with his excellent drumming partner Shane Gaalaas warrants this release a serious look from the metal and fusion community.
Track Listing: 1. Shedding Skin (4:58); 2. Fat, Mean and Nasty (4:50); 3. Blues for Pop (4:00); 4. Journey Through Life (4:52); 5. The Subconscience (0:58); 6. Sheer Drama (4:35); 7. The X Factor (5:36); 8. Intimate Portrait (1:04); 9. The Color For Love (4:10); 10. My Soul Deep Inside (4:29); 11. Redeye Romp (3:38); 12. Where is One? (3:57); 13. My Guitar Gently Screams (2:58)
Personnel: Jeff Kollman: Guitars, Bass (on Tracks 7,12,13); Shane Gaalaas: Drums and Percussion; Kevin Chown: Bass Guitar (Tracks 3,4,9,10); Ray Riendeau: Bass Guitar (Tracks 1,2); Barry Sparks: Bass Guitar (Tracks 6,11); Roger Burn: Piano and Keys (Tracks 3,4,12); Dale Grisa: Piano (Tracks 9,10)