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Trevor Rabin: All Colors Considered

Ian Patterson By

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As long as it's good and well-played, all music is worth listening to.
It wouldn't be the norm, that's for sure, but 23 years between solo albums is just one unusual facet of guitarist/composer Trevor Rabin's career to date. Whether taking a stance against apartheid in the early '70s in his native South Africa or turning down the opportunity to play in super group Asia for artistic reasons, Rabin has always done things his own way and stuck to his principles at every step. Rabin is perhaps best known around the world for the mega-hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and his 12-year stint with progressive rock giant Yes, but there are a surprising number of strings to the musician's bow.

While it would have been easy to carry on touring and recording with the legendary British group, Rabin felt that after a dozen years a new challenge was needed, and he said no to Yes. So it was in the mid-1990s that Rabin embarked upon another career as a composer of film soundtracks. In a little over 15 years, Rabin has recorded 40 film soundtracks of varying genres, winning numerous awards in the process.

Just when it seemed as though Rabin's music would only be heard in cinema houses around the world, he's back with another surprise in the form of his sixth solo album, Jacaranda (Varese Fontana, 2012). It's his first solo album of original material since Can't Look Away (Elektra, 1989), and it's an inspired collection of guitar- based instrumental compositions. Guest appearances by former Frank Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, longtime associate drummer Lou Molino, his son, drummer Ryan Rabin and, on one track, singer Liz Constintine, add variety and contrasting textures.

To call Rabin a guitarist is rather like saying a decathlete can run, for Rabin's multi- instrumental and arranging prowess is wonderfully documented on Jacaranda. Rabin handles an array of instruments: acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, Dobro, acoustic bass, bass guitar and piano. A classically trained pianist, Rabin's touch on the keys is exquisite and every bit as striking as his virtuoso displays on six strings. The instrumental music runs from bluegrass to contemporary jazz and from classically inspired motifs and cinematic airs to searing metal, often within the same exhilarating song. It's a hugely impressive undertaking and one which Rabin is rightly proud of: "I felt inspired during the whole process," he admits.

A few spins of Jacaranda and it soon prompts the rather obvious question: why did it take 23 years to produce another solo album? Rabin explains: "I got to a point where I decided I wouldn't do another album until I felt ready for it. Sometimes the business takes over, and you think, 'I've got to do an album this year,' and you kind of rush into it. I didn't want to do that."

Certainly, this would also go some way toward explaining Rabin's departure from Yes, but then again, producing several film soundtracks a year sounds like something of a treadmill, in itself. Rabin doesn't see it that way. "It's a much different process doing film music, because you get inspired by the picture. The films are different genres, and a lot of enjoyment comes from that diversity," he says. "But doing an album is much more intense, and I wanted to make sure I had really thought about it beforehand and was ready for it."

Rabin's preparation was a little unconventional in some ways. "As far as the process of going in and recording," he says, "I just let it lead me. I didn't even know it was going to be an instrumental album until I got halfway through it. It happened really naturally."

More than half the songs refer to childhood places in South Africa. "It's funny," says Rabin, "because the music is in no way South African. The inspiration I got while doing Jacaranda was from memories of when I was a kid living there." The opening track, "Spider Boogie," however, is just a piece of helter skelter, finger-picking fun. "For that track, I'd just got an amp in called a Rivera, and I was playing my Rainbow, which is a Westone guitar to try out the amp sound, and I came up with that electric riff. I thought it sounded kind of cool, so I kept playing it. I was just jamming to see what the amp sounded like, but I kind of got somewhere with it and thought, 'I'm going to record this.' It's essentially a jam."

A jam it may well be, but Rabin's jaw-dropping chops on this one- minute wonder bring to mind guitarists Tommy Emmanuel and Scott Henderson—both of whom Rabin admires greatly. "I love those guys," he says emphatically.

In the main, however, these songs are inspired by nostalgia. "Market Place" is where Rabin's father—a lawyer—had his offices, and it is one of two tracks, along with "Through the Tunnel," that feature Colaiuta on drums. "I had never met Vinnie, but I love his drumming," says Rabin. "I sent him 'Market Street' and asked him how he felt. He said he was quite excited. So he came in, and I thought we'd probably have to spend a day or two on it, but I swear to God, 40 minutes went by, and we had two spectacular takes. I didn't know which one to use. My goodness, he just nailed it," Rabin says, still in palpable awe of Colaiuta's performance. "I hadn't written drum parts that he was restricted to play," continues Rabin, "but I'd written a kind of geography, so he knew where things went, but he just nailed it. He's the most extraordinary player I've ever played with."

Another fairly special talent who appears on the track "Anerley Road" is bassist Wilkenfeld. "I was pretty much the only musician on the album," says Rabin, "but at no time did I think I was going to play everything. I had actually finished the bass on 'Anerley Road,' and, in talking to Vinnie, I decided to ask Tal Wilkenfeld to play bass. I edited the track so that she could play a solo."

An older collaborator was drummer Lou Molino, who has worked consistently with Rabin for over 20 years. "He was a very natural place for me to go," says Rabin. "Lou is the funniest guy in the world," he adds. "With Lou, if you get past a minute without laughing, you don't have a sense of humor. And he's like [keyboardist] Rick Wakeman, just an endless card."
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