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Tracklist: 1. Inseminator 6:09 (Jones) 2. Prisoner of the Knitting Factory Hallway 6:37 (Wagnon) 3. Tunnels 6:56 (Jones) 4. Maxwell's Demon 7:17 (Jones) 5. Bad American Dream (Part 24) 15:29 (Jones, Wagnon, Katz, Manakas) 6. Free Bender 3:49 (Jones) 7. Area 7:51 (Wagnon) 8. Barrio 9:07 (Jones) 9. Slick 5:39 (Jones) 10. Improvisation 4:35 (Jones, Wagnon, Katz) Line-up: Percy Jones - bass guitar Marc Wagnon - midi-vibes Frank Katz - drums Van Manakas - guitar Produced by Tunnels. Tracks 1 to 8 recorded by Mick Cantarella at "Grampa" studios, Brooklyn. Tracks 9 & 10 recorded live.
Prologue. As you see, three fourth of the latest / current Brand X line-up have worked on the Tunnels debut album (as well as on the second one, which was released just lately), and the only 'newcomer' Van Manakas, who plays the guitar here (and not only here), is after all one of the original members of Tunnels along with more known Percy Jones, Frank Katz, and Marc Wagnon. Percy Jones, from his side, is the only Brand X original member with regard to the line-up of Tunnels, while the latest Brand X line-up as a whole (i.e. with John G\oodsall on guitar) you can see and hear on Sarah Pillow's brilliant "Nuove Musiche" CD, also released by "Buckyball Music".
The Album. "Tunnels" (AKA "Tunnels With Percy Jones"), is a debut all instrumental musical entity of a self-titled band, formed by the majority of the members of Brand X's latest line-up a few years ago. While Percy Jones (on bass) and Frank Katz (on drums) still work as tight and extremely diverse as in the past ten years, and Marc Wagnon's midi-vibes, in addition to his wonderful playing real vibraphones, became quite an appropriate replacement for John Goodsall's midi-guitar, Van Manakas's guitar doesn't sound as powerful as John's. On the other hand, it's conceivable that Tunnels have specially refused to have such a hard-edged sound as Brand X had (especially on Xcommunication) so as there were no direct parallels between these two (too) kindred bands. So, only on the album's first track Inseminator, penned by Jones, Van has allowed himself (or it was allowed him) to sound really heavy, especially since the bass lines-riffs come to the front line here and they sound heavy (progressively aggressive!) already in themselves, though, using his own school of guitar playing, Van, with his original, often long, fast and quirky solos, can amaze anyone into Jazz'n'Prog Fusion. But if there is no (or just too little) heaviness in the sound of all the following compositions on the album, you'll find here a lot of very intriguing and interesting arrangements, some of which sound very powerful and bombastic even without guitar's heavy riffs and moves (though Percy Jone's bass brings a lot of 'heavy' energy into music, as always). Also, compositionally, "Tunnels" is slightly more complex an album than Marc Wagnon's "An Afterthought" (which in itself, though, has a lot of other trumps in the sleeve; you can read the review on this album here). While each of the album's instrumentals contains such a great number of different themes, changing each other sometimes kaleidoscopically, that it would already be enough for some Neo band to create a whole album, the majority of compositions here contain not only diverse and extensive joint arrangements, but also those that go more than rapidly with all the four soloing instruments at the helm. In such episodes, drums, bass, guitar, and vibraphone (or various keyboards - through midi-vibes) work as fast as high-speed car rushes, but especially impressive are two midi-vibe (electric piano-alike) solos by Marc on Tunnels and Bad American Dream (tracks 3 and 5 respectively) - they remind of the super speed flight of a bumblebee (by the way, The Bumblebee's Flight is a well known piece by the great Russian (Armenian, more precisely) composer Aram Khatchaturian, which is also performed to the speed limit). Although, of course, the main soloing instruments on the album are vibraphones and guitar, whose parts regularly cross each other, the bass guitar works as the soloing instrument often, too, while drums are special solo instruments, whose main purpose is to accentuate a wide-variety of musical changes that go off the reel the album throughout. Here are six (out of ten in all) compositions that contain high-speed joint arrangements (along with fast solos of vibes, midi-vibes, guitar and bass) supported by powerful, tense and diverse drumming: Inseminator, Tunnels, Bad American Dream, Aria, Barrio, and Slick (tracks 1,3,5,7,8,& 9 respectively). Listening to them, I'm amazed with an outstanding, superb musicianship of each band member and with their incredibly tight joint performance as well. Obviously, though, there is no guitar on both the last tracks that, probably, had been recorded before Van Manakas joined the band, so here we have only Marc's high-speed solos, performed first on 'keyboards' through midi-vibes, then on a real vibraphone. Although the remaining four pieces (Prisoner of the Knitting Factory Hallway, Maxwell's Demon, Free Bender, and Improvisation) don't contain those high-speed powerful and bombastic arrangements that I'm especially fond of, structurally and compositionally they're almost as complex and interesting as The Big Six, mentioned above. All well experienced and open-minded Prog-heads are bound to find here a lot of good things to please their ears with each listen to this album, including those four compositions that are less bombastic than the others. There is also more than enough complex arrangements, time signatures, changes of tempos and moods, tasteful solos of vibes or midi-vibes and guitar, as well as fantastic interplays between them and other instruments (don't forget the bass, and especially midi-system). While Van Manakas and Percy Jones can, at best, use special pedals, Marc's midi-vibes help him play virtually (PC talk) all instruments connected with his vibraphone through special midi cords. So Marc's vibes sound by far not only as real vibraphone in all composition of the album, but also as analog keyboards, low register or traditional synthesizers, and even as the mellotron (on Maxwell's Demon) and sitar (on Bad American Dream). Really, there are a few episodes (including even a bass solo) that are full of distinct Eastern and Far Eastern colourings, in the middle of the album. Some of the noisy-alike moments and their following transformation into a real composition should remind you of an atmosphere (only!) that dominates The Waiting Room (track 2 on the second disc of Genesis's "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" double album of 1974). Also, thanks to the midi-system, even the same solos that Marc performs on the real vibraphone sound in fourth run through a synthesizer, and in fifth - through an electric piano; all these miracles go simultaneously along with Van's and Percy own soloing parts. All in all, these wonderful midi-nuances make the album's overall sound more diverse, rich and colourful.
Summary. The Tunnels debut album (as well as Marc Wagnon's solo debut "An Afterthought", though), representing a real Confluence of Jazz, Rock and Symphonic Progressive, is a true hallmark of the contemporary Jazz-Fusion movement. Actually, this band (and I hope their second album is going to be on the same quality level as the debut) is in my view one of the Top-5 bands that ever existed in the history of (real) Jazz-Fusion, beginning with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever, the same (Tunnels' blood, almost a twin brother) Brand X, and Pierre Moerlin's Gong (from "Shamal", 1975, to and including "Leave It Open" of 1981). Among the contemporary bands of the genre, I think Japanese Bondage Fruit could be on par with Tunnels if only there were not too much avant-garde in their musical structures. Other contemporary Jazz-Fusion performers, such as Gongzilla, Project Lo, Allan Holdsworth (let alone Pat Metheny and Lyle May's flirts with new-age) are still able to make good-to-excellent albums, but the music they compose and perform is on the whole not as strong, complex and interesting as the music of Tunnels & Co. This way, I regard Tunnels as the best Jazz-Fusion band of today's progressive scene and their debut album a real masterpiece.
VM. August 28, 2001
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