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Sonic Undertow is the culmination of nearly ten years of occasional studio finagling by multi-instrumentalist Chris Hoard, also one half of the team that runs the fledgling Alternity Records, which made its mark last year with its first release, Then! , an archival live release from '90 by guitar phenom Allan Holdsworth. Upon reading the liner notes, the concept of blending progressive rock with a certain hip hop sensibility held a potential for certain disaster. Surprisingly though, Sonic Undertow manages to fuse these seemingly disparate styles successfully into something that blends a sense of history with something completely modern.
Hoard's influences range as wide as Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Steely Dan, with a portion of "Chasing Tsunamis" even re-interpreting a theme from the title track of Gentle Giant's classic, Three Friends. Some of the analogue synthesizer tones clearly hearken back to Keith Emerson, especially on parts of "Chasing Tsunamis" and "Pearls of Intuition." But while Hoard's always longed for the musical exploration in rock that was crafted with such bravado and inspired cross-genre experimentation," he also recognizes the fact that time has moved on, that there are new textures, new rhythms and new harmonies to be explored. "Time to Move On," "Still Movin'" and "Free da Radicals," feature rap lyrics from 4Zone and incorporate a more urban rhythmic approach, still managing to feel completely in context.
As a composer Hoard ranges from the textural beginning of "Prelude: Undertow" to the more lyrical theme of "Time Off in Tannu Tuva," which effectively blends in a sample of Tuvan throat singing. As an instrumentalist Hoard demonstrates a solid sense of construction; his solos are well-conceived and sonically diverse, the result of using various analogue and digital synths, as well as Chapman Stick. But what really ties many of these tracks together is the appearance of Allan Holdsworth, who contributes a number of solos to eight of the thirteen tracks.
That Holdsworth has evolved a completely unique harmonic language over the course of nearly thirty years is without question. His own compositions speak with a singular voice that many attempt to emulate, but never successfully copy. What is always remarkable, however, is to hear Holdsworth in a guest situation, where he is working within a more conventional harmonic framework. Regardless of the context, whether it be the group Soft Works or adding solos to Anders Johansson's jam-based Heavy Machinery , Holdsworth somehow manages to alter the complexion of the artists' compositions, making them fit within his universe. And the same can be said about his contributions to Sonic Undertow ; whenever he solos his personality is indelibly stamped, not just through the notes he plays, but in the way they alter the context of what surrounds them.
Sonic Undertow will be a treat for fans of progressive music who believe that the genre didn't peak and end in the '70s. Clearly there is room for modern cross-genre experimentation in a more advanced context, a concept that Hoard clearly understands.
Track Listing: Prelude: Undertow; Time to Move On; Still Movin'; Time Off in Tanny Tuva; Free da Radicals; Pearls of Intuition; Chasing Tsunamis; Long Voyage Home; Jurassic City; C'mon Ovaya; Forgotten Planet Suite - Part I; Forgotten Planet Suite - Part II; Coda: Undertow
Personnel: Chris Hoard (piano, synths, chapman stick, bass), Amon Freon (e-drums, loops, samples, effects) With Special Guests: Ekow Asare (voice), 4Zone (rap vocals), Mark Gleed (synths) Featured Guest Soloist: Allan Holdsworth (electric guitar, piccolo electric guitar)
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.