On the face of it, this live double-album is an expert genuflection to jazz-rock fusion, with five guitarists and a crop of punchy drummers (including Return to Forever's Lenny White and percussion virtuoso Zakir Hussain) to confirm it. But the playing of the seven bands is anything but predictable. The members sit in with each other here, and their embrace of risk and the pleasure they take in spontaneous performance are palpable. John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension have Hussain sit in for usual drummer Ranjit Barot in two fiercely vivacious pieces, including an infectious, choppy, 20-minute Hussein showcase, Mother Tongues. Barot leads a violin-dominated Indian-inflected sextet featuring the New York guitar maverick Wayne Krantz as a guest; Krantz also appears with an edgy avant-fusion trio. The chord-crunching, metal-inspired guitarist Alex Machacek opens proceedings with a fast-moving group extensively featuring electric bassist Neal Fountain.
Night Ark is a group that draws from so many fields of music it proves difficult to label. Many (but not all) of the instruments featured on this release originated in the Middle East; leader Ara Dinkjian's specialty is the oud, but he also occasionally plays guitar and piano, along with the less-familiar canoon and cumbus. The music includes exotic originals by the group, each of which merits repeated listening.
Arto Lindsay has come a long way since his early days as one of the prime architects of downtown New York's no wave sound, a period when he played untuned guitar in the noise trio DNA and served as the first vocalist for the Golden Palominos. Since then he's been a fairly ubiquitous guest artist and has pursued his own interest in the music of Brazil (where he was raised), as well as taking a detour into slightly avant-garde dance-pop with the group Ambitious Lovers. His solo work in recent years has gotten a bit mushy, perhaps, but Prize finds him tightening things up. The drum'n'bass textures that lay on the surface of his last album like laminate are more fully integrated this time out: "Prefeelings" combines a fractured breakbeat with salsa-fied acoustic guitar and saxophones; "Resemblances" smears subtle intimations of electronic mayhem under Latin percussion and guitar, while Lindsay sings lines like "Stay calm/Keep calm/Let the room outgrow the walls" in a dry, laconic voice. None of this is anywhere near as tuneful as his work with Ambitious Lovers, but there's a maturity to it that will keep you coming back for more.
Here Lucky goes to Memphis. Several years into a solo career, the former blues whiz kid plays good keyboards and guitar, and sings stirringly on originals and covers from all over the black music map (Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Les McCann & Eddie Harris, blues piano master Roosevelt Sykes, etc.) His modern soul-cum-blues is hot, sweaty, and aggressive, and he gets the job done in busy arrangements shared with the Memphis Horns, honey-throated back-up singers, and muscular hired guns like bassist Willie Weeks and drummer Crusher Green. Peterson had the good sense to collaborate with New Yorker Jim Payne when writing five songs for the album, including the killer slow blues instrumental that doubles as the album title.
Combine the innovative guitar energy of legendary fusion master Mike Stern with old friends (bassist Richard Bona, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta) and new (saxman Kenny Garrett), and anything is bound to happen. But fans expecting raucous swinging and jamming the whole time may be surprised at the subtle lyricism and exotic explorations that define these times for their hero.