Coming in waves of different sizes, strengths, and motions, "Shape of the Oceans" pulsates with Andrea Balestra
's guitar riffs buoyantly cast out to sea. The Balestra composition is anchored by drummer Phillip Major Willis
, who surges through the tide. Changing course with "Reckless Abandonment," an upward boogie leads the rhythm section to lay it wide open for Balestra to ignite with full fury. The tune then slides into a graceful passage that brings the juggernaut to a stylish close. This Balestra original is followed by yet another as his title track unfolds.
Said title track well represents the diverse intent Balestra envisioned within the scope of this project. Vivid imageries are set upon Balestra's inclusive soundtrack. "Trinity" is as much in the moment as it is a seer of musical comets to come. Bassist Enrico Degli Antoni
and drummer Alex Eckhoff
float in an undercurrent with a delicate touch that cautiously allows "Trinity" to breathe. Balestra rides the air calmly, untethered, ushering in the journey while eschewing the destination.
Tackling a Joe Henderson
saxophone adventure with a guitar is, well, adventuresome. With a nod again to Antoni and Willis for creating the foundation, Balestra delivers perhaps the album's standout performance with verve and even more importantly, a substantial grasp of Henderson's vocabulary. Antoni engages in a seamlessly melodic bass solo that grooves into nothing short of carnage from Balestra and Willis. The final change rages with high end melodic hard-edged chords that are inwardly funneled to a brightly lit "Inner Urge" climax.
Clearly a student of Jimi Hendrix
, Balestra softly intros with an acoustic "Mary Had a Little Lamb" before taking "Little Wing" out flying. As much Hendrix as you hear in this piece, it is far from a cover. It is played much more like a man who long since grasped Hendrix and now plays it with his own nuances intact. Many have covered this tune. It is refreshing to hear it played as a song and not as a copycat.
Sure, but what can he do with John Coltrane
's "Countdown?" For starters, it becomes a fusion launching pad. With Eckhoff and Antoni impressively reinvented as a jazz rhythm section, Balestra does a tightrope act between jazz and fusion. One is to perhaps applaud taking on this challenge as much as the enriched outcome. Arguably the most complex of the three well-known pieces from legends past, it stands out for its originality in conceptual arrangement. The saying, "Go big or go home," comes to mind.
The Hendrix influence is again at the fore with Balestra's original "We'll Meet Again." Unlike many who have been presented a Hendrix gift box, Balestra looks, or better said, hears Hendrix as the brilliant melodic and harmonically prolific guitarist that he was. A high percentage of guitarists have instead been blinded by the sizzle, pyrotechnics, and glitter of the packaging and never accrued the precious gift inside. Yet, curiously, none of that is anywhere to be found on the millions of Hendrix records sold. Kudos to Balestra for ignoring the glitz and vaping the fumes of greatness.
The bliss of tenor saxophone is an unexpected pleasure in the mysteriously melodic "Sinkin' Above." Balestra joins in briefly, but is mostly content to comp with his rhythm section. And why not? Sometimes less is more. Not to mention that the song was meant/arranged for a sax. Guest artist Bobby Hurricane Spencer
blows it with warmth, meaning, and vast expressionism. The tune rides one perfect wave throughout with oarsman Antoni and paddler Eckhoff steady as she goes. Vastly different from his earlier compositions on this record, Balestra makes good on the outlook of impressionistic variance.
Spencer is at it again with the Balestra and Spencer penned "Bobby's Song." Another melodic voyage that this time is fulfilled equally as a quartet. Drummer Giuseppe Risitano
makes his only appearance on the record count with a slick pocket push that was all the glue this piece needed. No reason to get sticky when keeping it loose and free was clearly the intent. Trinity
is a mixed bag of sorts. Generally, that might be taken as a negative comment, as if to say it was all over the place. Instead, the point is that they chose not to linger in endless guitar solos, though there is plenty of fine axemanship to be enjoyed. They are fearless in the face of fusion classics, while presenting their own music both in solid rock formation and as a jazz ensemble. With ample passages of jazz or prog rock deftness, there is also no loitering or monotony in any of the nine presentations. With smatterings of fusion giants such as Scott Henderson
and Oz Noy
in his holster, Balestra nonetheless is more enraptured by the vintage gunnery and execution of Jeff Beck
and unworldly trappings of Mr. Hendrix.
For future reference, Spencer, or another guest or permanent saxophonist could show up to the next session earlier. The thought of nifty sax lines playing counterpoint to Balestra's guitar prowess would be welcome.
Shape of the Oceans; Reckless Abandonment; Trinity; Inner Urge; Little Wing; Countdown; We'll Meet Again; Sinkin'
Above; Bobby's Song.