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Track List: 1. Wagon Wheels & Atom Bombs (intro) 0:18 2. Lexical Gap 4:21 3. I Woke Up 4:13 4. 16 Shades of Grey 4:30 5. Drowning In a Vacuum 5:41 6. Media-Induced Paranoia 5:30 7. Blue Harvest 7:28 8. Diet Soda 10:46 9. Wagon Wheels & Atom Bombs (reprise) 0:39 All tracks: by Rob Sbar. Line-ups: The Rob Sbar Trio (on all tracks, except 1 & 9): Rob Sbar - guitars (+ voice - on 8) Matt Schaefer - bass Erik Feder - drums, percussion, glockenspiel, & xylophone The Rob Sbar Large Jazz Orchestra (on 1, 7, & 9): Rob Sbar (conductor) - guitar Tony Gairo - tenor sax & flute Bill Wenglicki - baritone sax & clarinet Aino Soderhielm - alto sax Laurie Nagle - alto sax Rob Mislivers - alto sax Jason Elliott - tenor sax Duane Eubanks - trumpet Mark Shewchuk - drums Andy Pfaff - bass Daniel Mintseris - piano Produced by Rob Sbar. Engineered by Savvas Karamalis at "Astoria Soundworks", NYC. Tracks 1, 7, & 9 recorded live in Philadelphia in 1996.
Preamble. The debut Rob Sbar CD, "Wagon Wheels & Atom Bombs", is an all-instrumental concept album and, to all appearances, it should be interesting, at least. According to the press kit of this CD, Rob Sbar began playing professionally at age 16, doing session work and performing as part of Philadelphia's Alternative and Indie Rock scene. Later, he received a bachelor's degree in music from Temple University's Esther Boyer College of Music and a graduate degree in music composition at Rutgers University.
The Album. There is no place for any symphonic structures in the music on this album, which, generally, I perceive as a unique entity of Jazz-Metal. Everything on "Wagon Wheels & Atom Bombs" is highly original and complex - both compositionally and technically. Furthermore, most of the arrangements are here in the state of a constant and logical development, and the frequent changes of musical direction, raised to the power of eclecticism, as well as the continuos use of complex measures, are very typical for this album. Effective contrasts between the amazingly virtuosi solos of electric guitar, that are often high-speed here, and those of basses and various percussion instruments (including drums, of course), is another key aspect of this highly innovative album. In fact, "Wagon Wheels & Atom Bombs" is just filled with wonderful contrasts, and you'll find them even on both of the boundary 'wheels' of this musical express. While short, both of them, nevertheless, are very saturated. Performed by The Rob Sbar Large Orchestra, these are extracts from the pieces that, to all appearances, are about a pure Jazz. By the way, that orchestra appears also at the very end of Blue Harvest (7). The piece itself however, as well as I Woke Up (3), is about Classic Jazz-Fusion, the taste, diversity, and intricacy of which are on par with those in the music of Allan Holdsworth (on "Metal Fatigue" - just for instance), Pat Metheny, and the other best representatives of the genre. Especially mind-blowing however, are here those compositions, the musical textures of which contain the elements of Prog-Metal. These are all five of the remaining tracks, and taken together, they cover about three fourths of the CD's 'playing' space. The stylistics of three of them: Lexical Gap, 16 Shades of Grey, and Media-Induced Paranoia (2, 4, & 6), represents that unique Jazz-Metal, which I've mentioned in the beginning of the review. To be more precise, the music on each of these three compositions is about a strong blend of Modern Prog-Metal and Jazz-Fusion of a high complexity where heavy and jazzy textures are interwoven with each other the most wonderful way I've ever heard. A highly innovative, truly Modern Jazz-Fusion with elements of Prog-Metal is present on the remaining two compositions, Drowning In a Vacuum and Diet Soda (5 & 8). Both of them are as amazingly diverse, complex, and interesting as the album as a whole, though the 10-minute epic Diet Soda, which is the longest track here, is probably an absolute winner. Finally, I think I should mention that in the intro to one of the pieces on this album, there is the excellent solo of bass that, in addition, is clearly of an Eastern nature. The solos of xylophone are really evident on Lexical Gap, Media-Induced Paranoia, and Diet Soda (2, 6, & 8), those of hand percussion on the first of them, and also on 16 Shades of Grey (4), and those of glockenspiel only on the latter of them.
Summary. Some of the guitar acrobatics by Rob are unique by all means. As for the album as a whole, most of the contents of it are so original that I don't see any reasons for recalling the names of those artists whose creation would be at least partly comparable to that of Rob Sbar. However, the main merit of this album lies in Rob's outstanding compositional and arrangement capabilities. Apart from those who are exclusively into symphonic musical forms, "Wagon Wheels & Atom Bombs" should please any open-minded Prog-lover - especially those who're always eager for something new in Progressive. As for me, I only regret that Rob didn't release a CD with music by The Rob Sbar Large Jazz Orchestra - in addition to this one. Though I think that there are such recordings in his archive.
VM: February 14, 2003
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