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The Clever Use of Shadows by Nathan Mahl is one of the better progressive rock/jazz fusion releases I have had the joy of listening to in 1999. This group wowed them at NEARfest 99 with a dazzling array of keyboard artistry and fretboard gymnastics. If any band should win the time signature diversity award it is this one! This is tight prog with a healthy dose of energetic fusion. This Canadian act is well worth checking out!
And now the specifics . . . Nathan Mahl is Guy LeBlanc on keys, odd percussion, (I wonder if that includes the fiery attack on the keyboards I’ve seen him do live), and voice. Besides being a giant in song composition, with superb execution of a wildly, whirling maze of jazzy, proggy, rockin’ and delicate notes, LeBlanc has a great voice. My being an “instrumental only” fan was not put off at all in the brief moments of vox as it was strong and without that prog-snobbish bombast and pretense. LeBlanc is simply put, one impressive dynamo right up there with the best of Canterbury, Fusion, and Prog. He knows his classic art-rock.
Now José Bergeron on guitar, effects, and vox French was a monster! He easily sailed through progressive rock, jazz fusion, shred, and classic rock riffage. He is smooth, speedy, creative, technically precise yet with that gnarly bite that grips you deep in your soul. I reviewed another Nathan Mahl release awhile back that was essentially keys handling all instruments. I suggested then that LeBlanc was full of enormous potential but his ideas needed the “fleshing out” with real people on real guitars, bass, sax, etc. When I heard José Bergeron’s axe attacks accentuating LeBlanc’s keys my brain did that “Ah yeah man!” thing.
Brother Alain Bergeron on drums and percussives is fun, fluid, and flawless. Need I say more? Claude Prince on 4+5 string bass is a multi-styled, multi-faceted, boogieman. He plucks, picks, slaps, taps and flows on the low end of things and adds a very tight rockin’ and jazzy framework to it all. He was my favorite bassist of all the bands playing NEARfest 99. And yes, there was a real sax man, Paul Desgagné. He did a great job guesting on two cuts.
Of eight songs, seven were 100% excellent but one tune, the 5:47 “The Rubber Cage” by guitarist José Bergeron, was for me sophomoric, too pop-oid, a filler with token juvenalia “F” lyrics and such. It was totally out of the heady and classy flow of the disc. Perhaps it was tongue-in-cheek or facetious commentary on the “loser” mentality rampant in pop culture. Whatever it was it didn’t float my boat. If this was re-worked with no lyrics but Bergeron melodic guitar leads inserted it would be a decent syncopated-funky-jazzy-rock-cool kinda groove.
With that said, I must reiterate clearly grab this CD for wonderful, end-of-the-age, art-rock and fusion with the flair that only Nathan Mahl can do so well.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.