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(50 min, 'Spice-Rack')
TRACK LIST: 1. Skippy 5:01 2. Q 4:58 3. Toe Nail 5:16 4. Nebula 6:57 5. Lucia 8:01 6. No Loops 5:07 7. Neuro Man 6:29 8. Antillia 8:13 All tracks: by Hines. Produced by Hunt & Hines. LINEUP: David Hines - fretless & fretted bass Steve Hunt - keyboards & piano Steve Kirby - electric & classical guitars Steve Michaud - drums With: Allan Holdsworth - guitar (1, 8)
Prolusion. Back in the '70s, the US bassist and composer David HINES attended both the Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, and also received private instruction from Stanley Clarke (of Return To Forever and solo fame) on bass and composition. "Nebula" is the debut solo album by David, featuring guitarist Steve Kirby, drummer Steve Michaud, keyboardist Steve Hunt (who worked with Billy Cobham, Allan Holdsworth and Stanley Clarke) and the famous guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Tony Williams Lifetime, Tempest, Soft Machine, Gong, UK, Bruford, solo).
Analysis. Among his principal musical influences, Mr. Hines lists Miles Davis, Weather Report and Return To Forever, but only the name of Chick Corea's ensemble occasionally comes to my mind when I listen to "Nebula". Overall however, this stuff is so unique that any common comparisons would be redundant regarding it. It's not the outfit's declining to use the riffing structure of Return To Forever or The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and it's not the absence of brass instruments (which are an essential part of Miles Davis's creation) or swingy rhythms (typical for Weather Report) here that determines the originality of this music. It was primordially original in conception and was later arranged without appealing to conventional methods. Well, the style of Allan Holdsworth, who plays on the album's boundary tracks: Skippy and Antillia, is immediately recognizable, but even the former composition (the only that features Allan as a main soloing force) has no derivative sense. All in all, "Nebula" isn't Jazz Rock, but is a confluence of that genre and Progressive Rock, which is Jazz-Fusion, and it's not your typical, average Jazz-Fusion, but is its highly innovative emanation, created by extremely inventive and masterful musicians. The album is stylistically monolithic and pretty uniform structurally, too. All eight of the compositions are notable for up-tempo, dense, intense, nearly ever-changing arrangements, although precisely half of them: Skippy, the title track, No Loops and Lucia feature episodes (kind of David's benefit performances) with some more transparent atmosphere and the bass improvisations coming to the fore either alone, which happens more often, or along with solos of classical guitar and passages of piano, such as on the latter piece. At times, David switches to fretless bass, obvious by its unique sound, which, however, fits idiomatically right into the musical scheme. No Loops is especially eloquent in this respect. All four players are at the top of their activity practically throughout, although keyboardist Steve Hunt a bit more often shines in a primary solo role, imparting a lushly saturated symphonic-like feel to the overall picture. One of the most amazing aspects of this music is that it's neither anxious nor affirmative. What is more, it's filled with plenty of different moods, all exciting, but almost none of which belongs to the traditional spectrum of emotions, which may take place only in the spheres of improvisational or avant-garde academic music. Well, Q, Lucia and Neuro Man will bring to you some more or less recognizable moods, but anyway, you will hardly be able to precisely determine whether they're dark or only dramatic in character. While all the basic themes are carefully composed, they shift very frequently, which, being raised to the power of authentic improvisations, tirelessly crossing the length and breadth of those, makes the music extremely intricate, demanding a meticulous attention from the listener and leading him to have many happy returns to the album. Yes, I am asserting that this disc will never become tiresome.
Conclusion. All of the compositions are brilliant, showcasing the superbly tight and diverse, truly ensemble work in the arrangement and in the performance, which more than vastly distinguishes David Hines's debut outing from the average solo album. All you need to love this stuff is a minimal knowledge of an improvisational harmony or at least a correct perception of it, though for many of you, "Nebula" might become that essential bridge between symphonic and jazz music, which will lead you to the wonderful (and highly progressive) world of classic Jazz-Fusion. Along with "Progressivity" by Tunnels, this is one of the best and the most memorable works of the genre I've heard in recent years and is an undoubted candidate to take one of the highest positions in my Top-20-2005. Ultimately recommended.
VM: June 23, 2005
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