instrumental music

REVIEW: Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai – G3 Live in Concert (1997)

JOE SATRIANI, ERIC JOHNSON, STEVE VAI – G3 Live in Concert (1997 Epic)

It took me 21 years to finally buy this CD.  Why?  It was hard to get excited about three live Satch songs, three live Vai songs, and so on.  But a collector needs to catch ’em all, and it’s actually a pretty fabulous listen throughout.

Joe Satriani opens the set with “Cool No. 9” from his self-titled blues album.  Blues to Joe Satriani is a different kind of animal.  It’s trick-laden and thick with notes, although this doesn’t mean light on feel.  His landmark classic “Flying in a Blue Dream” is more what people expect from Joe.  I like to describe his albums as regular vocal rock records, just with the lead guitar singing the melody instead of a person.  I think I stole that description from Joe himself.  You can’t really call “Flying” a ballad but it sure is epic.  Finally it’s “Summer Song”, Joe’s big 1992 hit from The Extemist.  It doesn’t get more accessible for instrumental guitar rock.  Joe’s actually the perfect artist to open this CD for that reason.  His music, more than most instrumentalists, is door-opening for listeners.

The sublime Eric Johnson is in the middle position.  “Zap” is a tour-de-force of instrumental prowess, built into the framework of a nice shuffle.  Though you can certainly bop along if you like, the musicianship here is not for the timid.  “Camel’s Night Out” is a busy groover.  One of Johnson’s best tunes ever has to be “Manhattan”, which goes down unbelievably smooth live.  The playing is lyrical and warm.

Steve Vai’s threesome includes “Answers” and “For the Love of God” from Passion & Warfare.  “Answers” is one of Vai’s more challenging songs, fast and funky with weird tones and melodies.  This is probably the most blistering song on the whole disc, including a solo that isn’t in the studio version.  For all that, “For the Love of God” is the most awe-inspiring.  This ballad puts the passion in Passion and Warfare.  This is the one with Steve’s soul in it, every bend and every beat.  “The Attitude Song” is an oldie from the first Vai album Flex-able, just a solid rocker with some shredding.  Live it is much heavier than the tinny studio cut.

Finally, there is a trio of tunes with the three maestros playing together, as is the G3 tradition.  The blues standard “Going Down” is a typical jam, with Joe on vocals.  Then a tribute to Steve’s mentor, Frank Zappa, on “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” with everyone singing…and shredding.  Finally, Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” finishes the CD with Eric Johnson on lead vocals.  Of these three tracks, “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama” smokes the other two.

May as well pick up the original G3 CD if you find it in the wild.  It’s good stuff.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Alien Love Secrets (1995)

STEVE VAI – Alien Love Secrets (1995 Relativity)

You can always count on lil’ Stevie Vai to deliver something completely off the wall…except when he’s trying to play it straight.

Compared to Passion and Warfare and Sex & Religion, Steve plays it remarkably straight on the stripped back mini-album Alien Love Secrets. Remarkably straight for Steve Vai, that is. This is a guy who is known to make his guitar sound like anything except a guitar.  There’s plenty of that here (check out “Bad Horsie”, which sounds like some kind of bad horsie at times), but there are also actual grooves and riffs too.  Alien Love Secrets is an instrumental mini-album that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Steve’s music has always been an alternative to the mainstream, but grunge and heavy rock play an influence on “Bad Horsie”, one of the heaviest Vai riffs in existence.  Former Ozzy/Journey drummer Deen Castronovo is there to help cement the grooves (Deen also played on Ozzy’s Vai-written song “My Little Man”).  Alien Love Secrets is the ideal starter for people who don’t think they’re Vai fans.  The heavy rock continues on “Kill the Guy With the Ball”, featuring Deen doing some serious steppin’.

It’s wall to wall shred, but if you’re looking for something even more straight-ahead, you’ll dig “Juice” which is just a classic Van Halen shuffle done a-la Steve.  What about ballads?  From the very beginning, Planet Steve has included ballads.  “Die to Live” is a stock Vai ballad, melodic with tricky lead parts.  Some of the licks remind of “Hina” from David Lee Roth’s Skyscraper.  “The Boy From Seattle” would also be pegged as a ballad, but it’s definitely a bit more challenging.  Then there’s the beautiful closing track “Tender Surrender”, which is blues for the intergalactic age.

People who don’t like Steve’s goofy side will loathe “Ya-Yo Gakk”, a duet between infant child and lead guitar.  Steve has always experimented with guitar imitating the melody of a human voice, like “So Happy” from Flex-Able.  This is more of a song, but still a matter of taste.

Alien Love Secrets will still be incomprehensible to some, but it’s probably Steve’s most accessible release overall.  Without the layers upon layers of tracks, you can get in there and just listen.  If you want more, there is a cool DVD release, with a video for each track on the album!

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Joe Satriani – Shockwave Supernova (2015)

Purchased at BMV for $7.99 during Toronto Record Store Excursion 2016.

scan_20161217JOE SATRIANI – Shockwave Supernova (2015 Sony)

Like a manic version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, the title track from Joe Satriani’s latest Shockwave Supernova will render you mute as you pick your jaw up from the floor.  Syncopated guitars and drums unite before Joe focuses everything on the melody.  Joe’s brand of instrumental rock usually features the lead guitar in a melodic position where a lead singer would normally deliver the hooks.  That’s Joe’s job and he has done it consistently well.

New age-y guitar twinkles highlight the ballad “Lost in a Memory”, which pulses with understated rhythms.  It is only appropriate that this spacey music was recorded at Skywalker Sound.  What atmosphere and what power.  Things take a turn down Weird Street on “Crazy Joey”, a showcase for sounds you didn’t know a guitar could make, but still with a cool melody to remember.  Unbelievable accuracy and dexterity here.  “In My Pocket” brings back Joe’s bluesy harmonica work (often overlooked) with a stripped basic track.  Then we fly “On Peregrine Wings”, but the song itself is heavy as granite.  An unorthodox guitar hook reminds us that Joe isn’t a typical songwriter or player.  Thunder returns on “Cataclysmic” which moves along with the grace of a herd of rhinos.

Joe hops in his Tardis for a trip back in time to the early 60s on “San Francisco Blue”, but of course with his own space age sound.  He just has to “Keep On Movin'”, but it’s still a surprise when the piano shares the spotlight.  There is no shortage of string majesty, but the piano is a nice touch.  Things cool down on “All of My Life”, a gentle song with breezy congas and unexpected twists.  “A Phase I’m Going Through”, track 10, is the point at which the listener begins to get a little bit of ear fatigue.  15 songs might be normal for a Joe album, but 10 songs might be the ideal length for the average listener.

Take a break if you have to because there are still great moments ahead.  “Scarborough Stomp” is an apt title for the snare-heavy 11th track.  It’s all about that uncomplicated beat, but there is a cool baroque section in the middle that sounds as if lifted from Joe’s brief stint in Deep Purple (1994).  A tender ballad (“Butterfly and Zebra”) is a transitional song leading to the ominous backwards guitar intro to “If There is No Heaven”.  This song is reminiscent of past Joe blasters like “One Big Rush”. Then you will see the “Stars Race Across the Sky” on one of Joe’s more atmospheric tracks. A “Goodbye Supernova” sends us off in dramatic fashion with heavy keyboard accents by veteran Mike Keneally.

Very few Satriani albums will let you down.  Though some might argue “if you have one Joe, you have them all”, his fans will appreciate the differences.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Joe Satriani – Flying in a Blue Dream (1989)

JOE SATRIANI – Flying in a Blue Dream (1989 Relativity)

I used to read all the rock magazines and charts as a kid, and I was surprised when Joe Satriani’s latest album cracked the top 30 in Canada.  “Isn’t he an instrumental guitar guy?  Do enough people buy that stuff for it to chart?”  Apparently they did, and even if instrumentals aren’t your thing, you have to love Joe’s big vocal single debut, “Big Bad Moon”.

Joe nailed a cool, creative music video with lots of shreddery, which immediately caught my eye.  Joe looked like Razor Ramon before there was such a character, but cool as ice in that suit.  Meanwhile, another Joe in a leather jacket shreds the fuck out of a beautiful silvery Ibanez.  Putting on a gritty, Waits-ish voice, Joe slammed out a blues rocker like no blues I’d ever heard before.  I had to get this!

Flying in a Blue Dream contains only six vocal songs, but it didn’t need any more than that to become a hit.  The instrumentals are all killer (as Joe’s usually are).  For an album that is well over an hour, it is rare to find one so full of killer, with zero filler!  The best way to think about Satriani songs is that they are not really instrumentals, just good songs where the lead vocal melody is performed by a guitar.  Most of the songs on Flying share this quality.  The title track is one such song, where the musical backbone is a good song on its own, but the lead guitar front and center is where the lead singer would normally be delivering the hooks.  Instead, Joe delivers all the hooks with his guitar alone, and does so ably.  This is no easy accomplishment.  Lots of songs are in the five minute range, but don’t drag or bore.

Variety is another key quality to this album.  “Flying” isn’t a ballad, but falls somewhere in between.  “Can’t Slow Down” on the other hand will rip your head clean off.  For a real ballad, check out the beautiful “I Believe”, still a favourite of mine today.  While the diversity of the album is one of its strengths, another is the production, particularly on the guitars.  Melty, etherial and slippery as greased mercury, Joe’s tone defies imitation.  He gets crunchy on the rhythms though, and it’s a really sweet crunch — like a Skor bar.

When instrumentalists like Joe added vocals to their arsenals, jaded music snobs would often accuse the artist of “selling out” or “going soft”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Boom, right there on track #2 (“The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing”) is bright instrumental showcasing virtually every trick in the Book of Satch!  Harmonics out the wazoo, sounds I can’t describe or articulate, but all done with an eye to the melody and groove of the song.  That’s how to do it, folks.  You want groove?  Check out “Can’t Slow Down”, one of the blazing vocal tracks, or the headlong “One Big Rush” and “Back to Shalla-Bal”.  You want bizarre and experimental?  Then “Headless” and “Strange” appropriately fit the bill.  You want mystical, exotic and avante garde…but with funk bass?  Parts I and II of “The Bells of Lal” should do you.

Adding vocals was the coup de grâce. Those songs really elevate Flying in a Blue Dream to a timeless level.  Of them, “I Believe” is particularly special.  It is quiet and spare, in contrast to some of the heavier moments on the album.  Tasteful and reserved guitar melodies set the tone, and Joe sings softly of making a better tomorrow.  His singing is remarkable actually, because though Joe is not known for his voice, he sings with the correct passion and feeling.  In short, it all works as a package.  Remember, it is usually Joe’s guitar that delivers the the hooks.

Flying in a Blue  Dream always seems to live in the looming shadow of its predecessor, the million selling Surfing With the Alien.  If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Flying in a Blue Dream, every time.

5/5 stars

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VIDEO: “Star Wars – Capture on Kashyyyk” featuring music by STEALTH

What is summer without a few trips to the cottage? This past weekend was beautiful and loaned itself to some photography and loads of music.

Below, you will find a video using a new track by Stealth, the duo made up of bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano, and percussionist Richard Burrows.  The music is “point i” from their debut album, called …listen.  Thanks to Youtube, you no longer have to just “listen”!

“Point i” suited the jungle planet in the photos.  I was just playing around with my Star Wars Black Series 6″ figures and I wanted to show off my new IG-88 and Chewbacca.  I got carried away and what you see below is the result.  It was a lot of fun, which I hope you can see in the adventure!

Thanks to Kathryn and Stealth for permission to use the music.  Pick up ...listen by contacting the artists at kathrynladano.com, coming soon to iTunes and Amazon.

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REVIEW: Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare (1990)

PASSION AND WARFARE_0001STEVE VAI – Passion and Warfare (1990 Relativity)

Passion and Warfare was released in 1990.  I didn’t expect it to chart, but it did!  It was an exciting time for instrumental guitar records.  Joe Satriani had recently become a household name with albums such as Surfing With the Alien and Flying in a Blue Dream, but Flying had vocals on some songs.  Now his student Steve Vai was on the charts with his own solo album.

Different from Flex-able, which was basically just released demos, Passion and Warfare was a fully realized piece of art.  Some consider it to be Steve’s “real” debut album.  Some of the music dated back almost a decade.  “Liberty”, said Steve, was a melody he heard in a lucid dream and tried to recall.  Of the dream, Steve remembered saluting a flag he didn’t recognize, with an anthem playing.  “Liberty” opens the CD, which is actually a lyricless concept album.  Steve Vai is nothing if not ambitious.  There is some dialogue on and between songs (some performed by Steve’s then-Whitesnake bandmate David Coverdale), and the liner notes trace out some of the dreams that inspired the music.

Lyrics for a song that has no lyrics!

Lyrics for a song that has no lyrics!

“Erotic Nightmares” is self-explanatory.  Steve composed a chunky rock track with so much guitar that I doubt he even knows how many tracks of shredding is on it anymore.  Guitars build layer after layer, playing melodies that don’t seem possible to perform with fingers.  It’s not mindless shredding for the sake of shredding.  The “concept album” aspect means that the songs have movement and go to different places, trying to convey these ideas to the listener.  Steve used an Eventide harmonizer to give his guitar flute and keyboard-like tones.  Those bizarre sounds compounded with Steve’s impossible fretwork means this is one hell of an ambitious song and album.

Steve was using his new Ibanez 7-string guitar exclusively now.  I believe he stated in an interview that there is hardly any 6-string on Passion and Warfare at all.  It’s that 7th string that enables Steve to dig low on the groovy “The Animal”.   With the expert rhythm section of Stu Hamm (bass) and Chris Frazier (drums), there is no way this would suck.  Steve remembers to throw enough melodic hooks down to keep it listenable for laypeople.  “Answers” is less accessible, a cute dance of strange munchkin-like melodies.  There is a melody here, however, that recurs through the length of the album.  It’s an old melody, and part of it appeared on Flex-able and an Alcatrazz album as well.  Clearly these ideas had been gestating a long time before they were fully realized on tape.

After a brief dialogue snippet (a tape of a preacher that Steve recorded off the radio many years prior) comes the track “The Riddle”.  That’s right — the answer came before the riddle.  I love stuff like that.  It sounds like there are backwards guitars on this song, but who knows!  I’m sure Steve can make his guitar sound backwards.  “The Riddle” is a long epic that goes to exotic territories, and many textures.  “Ballerina 12/24” is a short transitional piece that shows off the Evontide harmonizer – the notes are moved up a few octaves making it sound unlike a guitar at all.  Then a deep breath and it’s onto the serious album epic — “For the Love of God”.  Considered by some as one of the greatest guitar songs of all time, you can hear what all the hype is about.  The melody that it is based on becomes increasingly more complex and expressive as the song progresses.  That’s not a sitar on the song either, just Steve wrenching sounds of the guitar that it was not intended to make!

You can’t close a side better than with “For the Love of God”.  The second half of the album commenced with the jokey “The Audience is Listening”.  While this is a smoking track, the dialogue (performed by Steve’s actual grade school teacher) doesn’t stand up to repeated listens.  It’s amusing but it has a short shelf life.  The school room theme had some comparing it to “Hot For Teacher” by Van Halen, but there’s no similarity beyond that.  It was an obvious choice to release as a single/video, with Thomas McRocklin playing young Stevie.

“I Would Love To” was the most accessible track on the album, and it too was chosen as a single/video. This is as mainstream as Passion and Warfare gets! An uptempo rock track like this is an easy point of entry for the uninitiated. That’s not to say anything is sacrificed for the sake of simplicity. Steve’s guitar is as dropping as ever. I’m not sure where it fits into the concept of the album. The liner notes tell us that the next song, “Blue Powder”, depicts a scene “high above the trees. Everything was more vivid than I thought was ever possible. I saw things from all sides. Then I realized I wasn’t perceiving things through human eyes.” Deep stuff, but musically it starts as a slow blues. Through the fingers of Steve Vai of course, so that means different from any slow electric blues you’ve heard before. And then it goes to outer space, anyway. It’s incredible how well Steve can play the blues, as well as the space-age stuff, and make it sound authentic. “Blue Powder” also boasts a freaky-funky bass solo from Stu Hamm.


I love that they make fun of New Kids on the Block in this video

“Greasy Kid’s Stuff” serves as an upbeat track with the smoking-guitar quotient at max.  “Alien Water Kiss” is another brief demonstration of how a harmonizer could make the guitar sounds like a not-guitar.  “Alien Water Kiss” actually sounds like what it’s supposed to sound like — assuming aliens have lips.  You get the feeling that a lot of Steve’s lucid dreams were wet dreams!   “They must have sensed that my actions and thoughts were harmless, being that they induced a union between us.”  Yikes!

Sometimes Steve Vai doesn’t get too weird and just writes beautiful music.  “For the Love of God” is one such song, and so is “Sisters”.  This soft ballad showcases a side of Steve Vai that some don’t know.  His technique is flawless, but so is his feel.  It doesn’t hurt to have Hamm and Frazier playing with him, who are also able to wrench feeling from their instruments.  The final song, “Love Secrets” is just Steve, at his most bizarre.  It’s a dramatic close to a confusing concept album, that leaves you with the feeling that you just heard something really significant.  You don’t know what that is, but it has a weight to it — and that’s what draws you back.

I’ve been listening to and enjoying Passion and Warfare for 25 years now.  Although Steve’s guitar tone sounds a little thin by comparison to today’s standards, I am just as enthralled as I was in 1990.  Passion and Warfare remains a genius album, and to this day it is still my favourite.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: George Lynch – Sacred Groove (1993)

It’s a shame I lost my original 1993 review of this album.

LYNCH_0001GEORGE LYNCH – Sacred Groove (1993 Elektra)

If you like Dokken but never followed George onto the Lynch Mob, then this album is for you.

George Lynch is a very talented shredder, capable of playing a wide variety of styles.  Sometimes he hits, sometimes he misses, but on Sacred Groove he makes the mark every time.  Sacred Groove was designed as a solo project shortly after the second Lynch Mob album.  The idea was to work and write with different singers and musicians, and George loaded up on some great singers.  Glenn Hughes, anyone?

John Cuniberti, who co-helmed many Joe Satriani albums, produced this opus and lent it some serious sonic excellence.  The opener “Memory Jack” is a collaboration between producer and guitarist, but this is little more than a sound collage to kick off a killer instrumental called “Love Power From the Mama Head”.  This isn’t to say that “Memory Jack” does not contain some shredding licks, because it does…but they are not the focus.  The sound collage itself is the focus.  Into “Love Power”, George lays down some serious riffy rhythm guitars.  This is topped with a very Satriani-esque guitar melody.  “Love Power” is constructed very much like a Satch rock instrumental track, with memorable guitar melodies and song structures.

There is a very cool moment in the guitar solo in “Love Power From the Mama Head”, at exactly 4:47.  While George was essentially assaulting his guitar with the whammy bar, he accidentally dropped the instrument on the studio floor.  “Shit!” said George, while producer Cuniberti ran over and stopped George from picking it up.  The producer then kicked the guitar for added effect!  Cuniberti assured George it would sound cool, and it kind of does!  The guitar just stops on this weird chord-like sound, before they punch out of that and into more shredding.  It’s different and spontaneous and I love shit like that.

“Flesh and Blood”, contender for best track on the album, is the first vocal, featuring Badlands’ Ray Gillen (R.I.P.).  It’s a Dokken stomper for sure, but with Ray Gillen’s bluesy Coverdale-isms all over it.  Killer.  The lyrics were co-written by George’s ex-Dokken bandmate Jeff Pilson, who also co-wrote and plays bass on the next track, “We Don’t Own This World”.

Now here’s the interesting thing about “We Don’t Own This World”.  Lyrics by: Don Dokken?  The fuck?

George, Don and Jeff had planned to reunite on this one song, that Don supplied the lyrics for.  Don however cancelled or chickened out (either/or) and didn’t make it to the session.  It just so happened that the Nelson twins, Matthew and Gunnar, were in town and eagerly sang on the track in Don’s absence.  With their harmonies, “We Don’t Own This World” sounds nothing like Dokken, except in basic ways.  It’s the most commercial track on the album; a pop rocker.  The vocals soar over one killer melody, and the solo is one of George’s best.  If this song had come out only two years sooner, it would have been a hit single.  The Nelsons have done some cool music over the years, and not gotten a lot of credit for it, so this song is pure delight.

I still think of CDs as “albums” with distinct sides, and on the cassette version “I Will Remember” closed Side One.  This instrumental ballad has a vaguely dark tropical feel, although it is an electric guitar song.  George’s solos are sublime and I love his unexpected timing on certain notes.  He has flawless chops mixed with feel…a rare combination.

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Side Two’s opener is an epic in two parts, but it’s as close to a skip as this album gets.  The problem is vocalist Mandy Lion, of WWIII.  You either like his glass-garling-elfin-metal voice or you do not.  I do not.  However, “The Beast” Parts I and II are such a slamming groove that I tend to block out the words and the voice singing them.  This is another track where the original vocalist slated could not do it.  Udo Dirkschneider wanted too much money and Rob Halford was too busy, but Mandy Lion would do it.  He showed up at the studio in the heat of summer wearing head to toe black leather.

“The Beast” could be a dirty sex anthem, I guess, but it’s far too heavy for the 50 Shades crowd.  I dig when halfway through, George breaks out his newly-bought sitar.  (I remember seeing pictures of George in Metal Edge magazine buying it!)  If only Mandy would have chosen to shut up at this moment.  Bassist Chris Solberg comes in and grooves through to a false ending, and then it’s “Part II (Addiction to the Friction)” — a 10 minute track in total.  Thankfully a huge chunk of it is instrumental.

The regal Glenn Hughes raises the bar any time he opens his mouth.  His two songs were the first new Hughes singing I had heard since Black Sabbath.  I detect some fragility in his voice here.  I think this may be from a period where Glenn was recovering from addictions.  Regardless, he sounds a lot better today, whatever the reasons are.  That’s not to say he’s bad here, because he’s still the best singer on the album.  You just feel he’s not giving it everything like he does today.

“Not Necessary Evil” is Glenn’s first song, a Dokken groove with Hughes’ soulful signature style.  This one too had hit single potential, but only in an alternate timeline in which Rock never fell to the Grunge Hordes in 1991.  “Cry of the Brave” is his second track, a slower and more soulful rock track.  This is a song about injustice to the American Indian (reading the lyrics, I’m assuming specifically Leonard Peltier), and it’s worth noting that Glenn wrote the lyrics by himself.

The album closes with a final instrumental called “Tierra Del Fuego”, and if you couldn’t guess, that means George breaks out the flamenco guitar.  There’s also a guest electric guitar soloist named Daryl Gable.  If I remember the story correctly, Daryl Gable was a lucky fan who was selected to have a guest shot on the album.  How cool is that?  And he’s pretty good, too!  I have to admit I like these dusky tropical flamenco things, so I consider “Tierra Del Fuego” to be a very successful album closer.  But fear not, there’s plenty of electric guitar too!

Sacred Groove is pretty damn near flawless.  If only they could have got Udo instead of Mandy, eh?

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Derek Kortepeter – Stochastic (2014)

stochasticDEREK KORTEPETER – Stochastic (2014)

A short while ago, I reviewed the debut EP Compilation Vol. 1 by UCLA musician Derek Kortepeter. Since then Derek has put the finishing touches on his first full-length album Stochastic, an even more experimental collection.

Music like this is difficult for me to review as it’s pretty far out from the mainstream. Take the opening track, “Veritas”. The first 45 seconds are the sounds of guitar scrapes and echos, before the grand chords commence. As an opening track, this is both a welcome and a warning: It says, “If you find me intriguing, dive in! But if this is not much more than noise to you, farewell!” Not everybody is going to get music like this.

“Veritas” flows seamlessly into “Burning Embers” which uses backwards guitar as a melodic hook. Heavy, noisy guitars and drums soon flood the speakers. It’s difficult to grasp at the rhythm, but Derek does not make music that does not challenge him. Just listen. Allow the music to seep in, and you will begin to pick up on the melodies and rhythms within. It’s there in the contrasting guitars and keys. At this point I’ll mention that Derek plays all the instruments on Stochastic himself.

“Illusions” plays with odd drum rhythms and mixes guitars with synths into an atmospheric whole. I couldn’t tell you what effects he’s using on his guitar but it sounds cool to me. There’s lots of echo and bluesy playing on “Solitary”. I find that there is plenty to love here, you just have to really listen and let it happen. In particular, even though this isn’t a “guitar album”, I was drawn to that instrument.

“Fusion” is a favourite track of mine. This is a jazzy, upbeat mellow tune with a tropical feel. The piano is a key instrument here, while Derek noodles cool jazzy licks on his six string. Elsewhere (like on “Glitch”), I hear elements of Steve Vai’s fearlessness and playfulness. Steve Vai once said, “Sorry folks, I can’t help myself,” in regards to his experimentation. I think Derek can probably relate.

Another moment I really enjoyed is a multitracked cacophony of guitar and drums in “Solar Wind”. But it’s not just noise. It’s easy to see how somebody could hear it as noise, but there’s a lot going on here. (I can’t tell you exactly what is going on, but trust me, it’s happening.  It’s very dense.) Then it goes sparse, with only one guitar, which throws you a bit (in a good way).

Finally I’ll quote Derek from his own website, because I think what he says hits the nail on the head:

“Many records, when they find their groove, bring the listener to a certain element of familiarity. This LP is quite the opposite of that. I want you to react, to think, to be moved, to be jarred, to be confused, and ultimately form an opinion on what it is that you are hearing. Whatever the “Stochastic” system determines for your mind, I can promise that it will be a unique result. This result will not be repeated in the consciousness of another human being listening to the same songs.”

Stochastic by Derek Kortepeter is available at CD Baby, iTunes, and beyond.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Derek Kortepeter – Compilation Vol. 1 (2014)

DEREKK

DEREK KORTEPETER – Compilation Vol. 1 (2014 independent)

According to his WordPress page, Derek Kortepeter is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and alumnus of the School of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. Already, I’n in way over my head. I already find it hard to talk about instrumental music, but I am not a composer, nor a multi-instrumentalist, and definitely not an alumnus of the School of Ethnomusic-anything.  So as a knuckledragger off the street who really only has laymen’s terms at his disposal, here are my thoughts on Derek’s Compilation Vol. 1 EP.

So here we go!  “Light Within” is the first song, a track written entirely by Derek featuring a whole lot of unfamiliar instruments.  (oud, Chinese gongs, Tibetan bells, Tibetan singing bowls, kora, Andean panpipes, oh my!) Derek plays chunky guitar chords over this, which lends it a vibe similar to the guitar instrumentalists that I like.  A Vai-ish guitar melody meanders through.  There’s a lot going on here, particularly in terms of unexpected notes.  Before the 2 minute mark there’s a blast of shredding, and you know that I do like shredding.  There’s plenty of that on this track.  So far so good.

“It Begins” consists of some traditional rock instrumentation: guitars, bass, drums, organ.  There’s a slow groove, and some really nice bluesy guitars.  But the guitars dart in and out of different styles, maintaining the feel.  This is a 7 minute long bomber, but it maintains its appeal due to the always-interesting guitar.  The third track is called “Omega” is an ambient guitar piece, backed with string-like keyboards.  I’m immediately reminded of things like Joe Satriani’s first self-titled EP in terms of sound.  Although this track is primarily atmosphere I like it a lot.

The final song is a “bonus track” called “Waves”, also an ambient piece.  This one has a little bit more in terms of instrumentation, but the focus is still mainly on the spare guitar chords.  About halfway through, there are a series of gongs and cymbals, before the echoey guitar is left alone.

So, in summation: I like this EP.  Is it something I fully understand?  Probably not.  Is it catchy and memorable?  Memorable yes, catchy no — you have to listen.  Sometimes the guitar melody feels at odds with the backing music.  Will I play it in the car?  No, it’s not that kind of music for me.  But I will play it this fall while going for those morning walks when things are quiet.  That’s what this music feels like to me.

3.5/5 stars

Buy it:  Amazon!

REVIEW: Mark St. John – Magic Bullet Theory (2003)

MARK ST. JOHN – Magic Bullet Theory (2003 Loch Ness Monster Records)

Mark St. John (1956-2007) is best remembered as the lead guitarist on Kiss’ 1984 Animalize album.  He was however much more than just a Kiss guitarist.  His exotic shredding was the basis of an instrumental solo album, Magic Bullet Theory.  Thanks Lemon Kurri for hooking me up with this CD.

“AWOL” blasts the doors open wide: high-octane tempo, high-speed shred, high-tech tricks.  There are Yngwie-like moments, Van Halen harmonics but also enough melody and song structure to keep it interesting.  Mark’s solos feature a number of different sounds and styles.  Intricate flamenco and electric guitars open the title track “Magic Bullet Theory”.  Then it turns into a melodic instrumental with lead guitar center stage.  Next, out of left-field comes the jazz workout of “Bourbon Street”.  This delicate number features non-stop jazz guitar shredding, full speed ahead, which some will find to be just too much to absorb.  “Too many notes,” some might say.  I am not one who would say that.

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It’s back to instrumental heavy metal with “Slave Driver”, which reminds me of Yngwie’s “Leviathan”.  “Utopian Trip” is more laid back, and I can hear mandolin on this one.  Mark lays a blistering lead guitar line over the largely acoustic track.  “Communicator” offers plenty more shred, perhaps resembling the high pitched screech of some 60’s sci-fi communication device.  “Baghdad” has guitars that sound like air raid sirens, certainly appropriate given the title. But the song itself is Arabic is style, with a lot of very complicated acoustic guitars.

“Wait No More” is more melodic instrumental hard rock, but with complex rhythms and tricks aplenty.  “Between the Lines” is ballad-like, with layers of shimmering guitars,until the song gives way to a nice rock riff.   This is of course accentuated by plenty of lead and melody guitars.  Finally “The Lone Gunman” closes the album on a heavy note.  (Notice how this title ties in with “Magic Bullet Theory”.)  The is a riffy track, which frankly the album could have used more of.  It’s also the longest song on the album, and probably the most epic emotionally.

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Although Magic Bullet Theory is not as song-oriented as I prefer instrumental albums to be, it has plenty of memorable moments and tracks.  It certainly shows off the talent that Mark had, that the world doesn’t know enough about.  Magic Bullet Theory comes recommended to all dyed-in-the-wool Kiss fans, and those who enjoy intelligent shreddery.

3/5 stars

…But wait, it’s not over!  After a five minute silence is an unlisted classical guitar rough recording, melodically lovely and astonishingly fast!  A nice coda.

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