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Vertu: Vertu

AAJ Staff By

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Vertú is a joy long overdue, a "hats off" to jazz fusion. The '70s saw an explosion of jazz rock fusion groups. They need not be listed here again. The advantage of being nouveau rock enlisted a fresh group of fans, loyal devotees, and the inevitable faddish clan. With the gradual fan-base attrition, the rise of disco, and the floundering big-hair glam of the '80s — fusion fizzled. Fusion hunkered down into a diehard, low-keyed trickle mode. Locating "golden age" fusion that hadn't mutated into semi-smooth jazz or dance floor, funk rock was a challenge for the thirsty devotee. Many a fine fusion artist simply vanished or was absorbed into the old whatever-else-works genre. I heard them say, "I grew beyond fusion . . ." while I heard the real vibes instead — sour grapes make lemons sweet. The fiery flame dwindled into a muted flicker. Stubborn fusionists looked elsewhere to foreign lands, to the obscure — for the good stuff.

Now, over a quarter of a century later at least some of the big boys, the phat cats of fusion are back. Stanley Clarke and Lenny White of the legendary Return To Forever show their old habits do die hard. With them, for this '90s reprise, is the formidable femme, Rachel Z on inspired and wondrous keyboards and Richie Kotzen on rockin' guitars. To further enhance the full fusion spectrum, lending that Mahavishnu Orchestra punch, is Karen Briggs on fiery and fusion-heavy violin.

Hear Clarke's signature bass solos, White's superb polyrhythmic drums, Z's ivory-clean runs, Briggs' virtuoso bowing, and the bluesy-rock, jazz-inflected riffs of Kotzen. There loads and loads of delicious morsels of fleeting unison lines, solos, and stimulating compositions. Enjoy the obvious tributes and surprise appearances of nostalgia rush on "On Top of the Rain" and "The Call". Opening track, "V-Wave" may cause many a glass of wine to overturn and CD jewel case to hit the ceiling on its attack-and-decimate opening! "Marakesh" as a slick, world fusion, groove throb, funk-jazz piece, definitely needs radio play — globally.

On "Toys", I must say I heard Vertú at their very best. I finally got to hear Rachel Z stretch a precious bit all alone. Lenny White exploded on the skins. Briggs went delightfully crazy and yet stayed oh so tight on the unison runs. Clarke pushed it all to that mountaintop climax and sea floor-rumbling trench while Kotzen kept a controlled crunch ripping. What a perfect outro!

In all subjective fairness I have to say I wished "Start It Again" had been merely a hidden track with its rhythm-n-blues, soulman-Kotzen vocals, and fusionless shufflings. It just did not work itself into the album's aura. I guess it was somehow considered a radio-play, crossover genre track. Go figure.

Lastly, Kotzen as a the guitarist of choice for Vertú baffles me. He has brief flashes of fusion stylings when doing unison lines with Briggs or during the Di Meola/Connors overdriven melody note mimicry. But . . . his soloing, phrasings, and fills, being very strong in technique, are still lackluster, go-speed-racer-rock and fall short of fusion-fed guitar life as we devotees know it. Kotzen approaches that good olde Ray Gomez bluefuserock gestalt but I keep hearing straightup pentatonic riff-rock driving it all in that post-Poison mode. Maybe next time out Kotzen will deliver the real fusion goods like Connors, McLaughlin, Holdsworth, Henderson, Gambale, Garsed, Helmerich, McGill, and others have done so deftly. For rock enthusiasts crossing over into '90s fusion — Kotzen will be a more than solid delight and perhaps that is exactly what is hoped and expected. All in all, Vertú is a very strong offering that will please jazz fusionists everywhere, X-generation young and RTF-old. High recommendations.

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