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(60 min, Buckyball)
TRACK LIST: 1. Devil's Staircase 8:32 2. Run by Time 6:03 3. Soliton 7:24 4. The Hidden Dimension 6:02 5. The Eleventh Hour 6:28 6. Light Gathering 6:08 7. Enigma 7:33 8. Green Eyes 5:20 9. Io's Dream 6:47 LINEUP: Marc Wagnon - midi vibes Percy Jones - fretless bass John O'Reilly - drums
Prolusion. After a four-year hiatus, one of the most innovative Jazz-Fusion bands of all time TUNNELS (from NYC) have finally returned with their fourth studio album "Natural Selection", although they had time to release their first live recording "Art of Living Dangerously" during this period, which was of course also an important event. The outfit's other studio albums are as follows: "Tunnels" (1996), "Painted Rock" (1999) and "Progressivity" (2002). More Tunnels-related reviews on this site: Brand X, Sarah Pillow, Marc Wagnon. In my honest opinion, Tunnels should be viewed as an independent outfit and as an alternative version of Brand X alike. If you still aren't in the know why, please click here.
Analysis. I believe the title of this CD has a dual meaning. Perhaps Marc Wagnon and Percy Jones wrote many compositions prior to compiling "Natural Selection", but only those most suitable were included. What instantly moved me about this album was its highly fresh sound, which can hardly be subjected to direct comparisons even with "Progressivity", let alone the band's first two studio outings. Well, it's still somewhat extraordinary to hear Tunnels without electric guitar ("Progressivity" features guitarist John Goodsall, but he only plays on three tracks there), but this their new effort clearly indicates that the veterans not only have well adopted to the change, but also seem to be better prepared for the searching out of undiscovered musical realms than ever before. Unlike many outfits working in the trio format, Tunnels aren't short of extra sounds - whether they work in the studio or do a live performance - which is in many ways thanks to Marc Wagnon's ability to use his virtual ensemble, MIDI-Vibes, in a really effective way, providing the group's overall sound with plenty of additional musical voices related to different instruments. Apart from drums, fretless bass and vibraphone itself, this album's sonic palette includes sounds of synthesizer, piano, harp, electric guitar and some woodwinds, let alone those uniquely unrecognizable and, hence, indescribable. Tunnels always were a tightly rehearsed unit playing mainly composed music with some essential impromptus (at least they were never keen on lengthy joint jams demanding spur-of-the-moment improvisations from everybody), but on this album their principal credo is reflected especially vividly. The structured Space Fusion they applied for the first time on "Progressivity" in receiving further development here has actually been carried to perfection, having found a somewhat restrained, yet still expressive and perceptible Gothic-like feeling. This way, Tunnels have invented a new musical language within the Jazz-Fusion genre. Lacking a better definition, I would call it Gothic Space-Fusion. The brightest examples of their new style are Devil's Staircase, which opens the CD, and The Eleventh Hour, standing right at its center. The mood is genuinely Gothic: it's disturbing rather than really somber, related to the feeling we experience in the face of something mysterious, unexplored. Although the tempo is mostly moderately slow, the overall picture can hardly be described as anything other than eclectically atmospheric. The detailed recollection of Gothic architecture in your memory might be of help. Such multi-dimensional music as this will never disclose all its depths upon an initial listen. Pure magic. As for distinct peculiarities, The Eleventh Hour has some tunes spiced up with flavors of Oriental music. On Enigma, The Hidden Dimension and Io's Dream, Tunnels manipulate more intense and complex arrangements, but still keeping the levels of energy and attraction high. Here, they may be still hovering in the futuristic expanses of Gothic Space-Fusion or traveling their fifth-elementary Jazz-Fusion or migrating to where there they blend both the idioms together, and all this happens within the framework of the same composition. Rich in the textures of vibraphone and electric piano, Soliton and Light Gathering find the trio continuing their new experiments, although with more digressions towards their personal formula of Jazz-Fusion this time around, more and more often prolonging their soloing parts. Run by Time lies within the bounds of Jazz Rock classicism, at times revealing traditional jazz features, such as syncopated joint movements with unison solos or those in 4th and 5th. This is the only time that I'm reminded of someone else apart from Tunnels - of their maternal band Brand X (in the '70s), though the 'piano' passages could have easily been on a Return To Forever or Chick Corea album. Green Eyes is somewhat less saturated than the others on the one hand and is more transparent on the other. It's atmospheric quasi Jazz-Fusion to my way of understanding. All the basic arrangements here are slow, serving as backgrounds for the soloing flight of vibraphone.
Conclusion. Tunnels are highly accomplished musicians, still playing with great technique and expression, although a considerable part of their new creation is designed to create a specific atmosphere and, therefore, stimulate a special perception on the part of the listener. With such dramatic and varied discipline as "Natural Selection" they might kill two birds with one stone - to please all their old connoisseurs and gain many new fans as well. A masterwork.
VM: June 23, 2006
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