Memphis guitarist and composer Shawn Lane continually blurs the lines between solo composer, guitar hero, and fusion improvisationalist. Lane may be the best unknown fusion guitarist, or the most musical guitar "shredder," or simply a gifted guitarist, pianist, and composer whose anonymity masks his impressive versatility and talent.
Instrumental guitar fans know Lane's work from his 1992 solo album Powers of Ten, on which Lane wrote all the music and (on one of the two released versions) played all the instruments, including guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. Powers failed to win acclaim, perhaps because Lane followed his own direction rather than cater to the instrumental guitar trends of the day. Fusion fans remember Lane's role in former Mahavishnu bassist Jonas Hellborg's trio Hellborg/Lane/Sipe, a highly improvisatory trio that toured America and Europe in 1996-1997, releasing several live records. Lane often highlighted his dynamic guitar range, from chiming clean to blistering flash, by looping background riffs through a sampler or singing his improvised guitar melodies while he played them.
The Tritone Fascination features Lane writing in a variety of instrumental styles, while playing guitar, piano, and sharing bass and drum duties with several Memphis session players. Lane's effortlessly fluid lead guitar soars with sustained emotional impact on sweeping ballads such as "One Note at a Time," "Maria," "Song for Diane," and "The Hurt, The Joy." "The Way It Has To Be" in particular shines with a lush, almost cinematic feel. Perhaps Lane's bout with debilitating arthritis in his knees just before The Tritone Fascination led his composing in these more contemplative musical directions.
"Nine = 101," a shifty blues co-written with Hellborg, focuses on Lane's fiery leads, often played at blazing speed while still retaining a lyrical soul. The sonically adventurous "Art Tatum" imaginatively shifts the mood of the record from the guitar driven songs. Some of the material on Tritone falls into the guitar hero mold of extended solos over repetitive riffs, such as "Hardcase." However, the second half of the record closes strong with stirring ballads and several mid-tempo, more melodic songs that feature Lane's more soulful playing and unison singing of the guitar melodies, like the sinuously rhythmic "Trois Sept Cinq."
Lane's tasty guitar sounds move, as usual, especially when combined with piano or with his airy, ethereal unison singing, doubling the guitar melodies on tracks like "Maria" and "One Note at a Time." The session musicians and Lane's bass and drum work support the guitar effectively. The drum programming on tracks such as "Hardcase" sounds less articulate than the live drums on most of the record, but for more sonically experimental tracks like "Art Tatum," the electronic drums match the sonic palette of the song.
The Tritone Fascination epitomizes Lane's versatility in writing and playing, with instrumental guitar hero style songs and expressive, melodic songs like the more moody tunes in his work with Hellborg/Lane/Sipe. As a studio record, Tritone can't approach the captivating live interaction of Lane's groups such as Hellborg/Lane/Sipe, but it adroitly highlights Lane's wide ranging writing and playing skills.
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