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Phil Keaggy, Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta: The Bucket List

John Bricker By

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The Bucket List, a collaborative album featuring guitarist Phil Keaggy, bassist Tony Levin and drummer Jerry Marotta, is a beautiful collection of lush and diverse instrumental songs. Each musician is an accomplished and talented artist in their own right. Keaggy has been nominated for several Grammys for his performances in contemporary Christian music, and has a huge catalog of solo records. Levin has recorded and toured with King Crimson, and played with Peter Gabriel alongside Marotta starting in 1978. The Bucket List's material began in 2008 when the trio recorded freeform jam sessions at Marotta's home studio in Woodstock, New York. The final album is the product of years of reworking and refining.

The passion poured into The Bucket List is obvious on its best songs. "Sometimes We Up" opens with a subtle blend of acoustic guitar, steady bass and light drums. About halfway into the track, acoustic strumming and drums lock into a stable groove, giving Keaggy room for a gorgeous solo, exploring a wide range of soft tones and expressive melodies. Layers of fuzzy power chords guide the folksy jam into rock, building momentum with more and more layers before fading away into the distance. Although this track exceeds seven minutes, its constant evolution and cozy atmosphere keep it consistently engaging.

Another one of the trio's longer songs, "Caravan," also stands out as one of its best, instantly creating arid tension with muffled electric guitar over crisp drums, shimmering acoustic guitars and subtle bass. Although Marotta gets a chance to display his light touch without the rest of the band near the track's midpoint, Keaggy steals the spotlight with frantic leads. Ambient splashes of reversed cymbals and guitars lead the track down before acoustic arpeggios leave the song hanging at a tantalizing open cadence.

The Bucket List also boasts tracks which deviate from the trio's loose format by pursuing separate aesthetics and paring back instrumentation. Although "Where's Phil" lasts for less than two minutes, its exotic percussion and warm bass effortlessly establish a nocturnal atmosphere. This short groove gives Marotta and Levin a chance to shine without layers of Keaggy's guitars.

"Carved In Stone" piles on more guitars than anywhere else. From its opening cowbell to bluesy power chords, this track bleeds nostalgia and grit while Keaggy delivers his sharpest and most expressive leads. A breakdown at the track's midpoint piles on layers of guitars and bass all repeating one earworm riff. The track eventually fades away through a mass of distorted guitars.

The album closes with its most peaceful track, "Blue Hawaii." For two short minutes, Keaggy delivers melancholy melodies over gently warping chords, nimble basslines and a spacey drum beat. This short outro acts as excellent release after all of the trio's energetic jams, ending the album with a relaxing breath of fresh air.

Keaggy, Levin and Marotta have created an album with enough variety and character to demand repeated listens. If you crave flawlessly performed and beautifully produced instrumental jazz fusion, The Bucket List is for you.

Track Listing: Sometimes 11; Fearless; Midland Crisis; Sometimes We Up; Stella Luna; Steely Funk; Where's Phil; Phil's On; Caravan; Carved In Stone; Good Stuff; Blue Hawaii.

Personnel: Phil Keaggy: guitar; Tony Levin: bass, stick; Jerry Marotta: drums, percussion.

Title: The Bucket List | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Self Produced

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