This album dropped onto my PC and I must admit to finding myself filled with a little trepidation. The Fusion Syndicate is the latest offering from a Billy Sherwood project and having been very impressed with the superb Supertramp tribute album, I was then brought back down to earth with The Prog Collective and so with the score at 1-1, this album would certainly be interesting.
There are excellent musicians involved in this project, Rick Wakeman, Jerry Goodman and Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Nik Turner (Hawkwind), Mel Collins (King Crimson), Eric Marienthal (Chick Corea Electric Band), Percy Jones and John Etheridge (Soft Machine) and Steve Hillage (Gong) to name but a few of those taking part. Magnificent musicians involved, all huge names in their own right, coming together to produce a monster of a jazz fusion album, but the burning question is, “Do They Succeed?” Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and find that answer.
It is interesting to note that there are only 7 tracks on the album with the shortest, track 7,”In The Spirit of…” clocking in at 7:16 minutes and track 1, “Random Acts Of Science” stopping the watch at 7:54 minutes. A person with a slightly suspicious nature might….and I did say might….think that this suggested some sort of structured formula being put into place.
The starting track to any album is always very important and track 1 here is “Random Acts of Science” (7:54) which starts with the swirling violin courtesy of Jerry Goodman and then into a very melodic brass passage. Distorted guitars take over the theme with a magnificent piano trickling across the track from the Caped Crusader (Rick Wakeman). It was difficult to “get into” the opening track with only snatches of a melody which then evolves quickly into something else. Jerry G continues to drive the song along, but there is this feeling of jam/improvisation creeping into the proceedings and from around 4:30ish minutes, this reviewer is beginning to flounder. There is a brief return to the recognizable riff from the start, just prior to the finale, but not sufficient to save the track. Despite a promising start, this track doesn’t fit the normal trend whereby track 1 is designed to grab your attention.
Tracks 2 and 3, “Stone Cold Fusion” (7:32) and “Molecular Breakdown” (7:20) both have passages highlighting the individual skills of the musicians involved, but the overriding sensation is certainly not that of comfort and relaxation. The superb brass passages in both tracks stand out. Only 3 tracks into the album and each one seems to merge into the other, with this reviewer having difficulty telling them apart. A complex musical genre, jazz fusion is not the most accessible and requires the listener to work at achieving their enjoyment.
“Particle Acceleration” (7:39) and “At The Edge Of The Middle” (7.37) continue the jam/improvisational feel again with some truly inspired skills on display. Track 4 has an almost laid back feel to it and there is a real “catch” to the initial passages but all too soon it is meandering off into jam territory. Track 5 has an intro with a little more tinkling piano, but quickly falls into the pattern of “sameness” present in the previous tracks
The penultimate track, “Atom Smashing” (7:36) despite a very enjoyable laid back intro merging into a keyboard passage which succeeds in holding the interest, this ceases around the 2 minute mark when it slips into the “black hole” of improvisation. There are short passages which then emerge but never long enough to engage this reviewer.
After a very demanding 40+minutes, the last track “In The Spirit Of….” (7:16) starts up but steadfastly refuses to change what has gone before. More excellent playing promises much, but then it is back to the “your turn for the next 2 minutes” as the track moves towards its close.
This area of music is not an unknown area for this reviewer, as I can remember purchasing the first two Mahavishnu Orchestra albums and marveling at the skill of the musicians. I did, however, find these albums “difficult” and indeed, I would “cherry-pick” the tracks to listen to. Similarly with The Fusion Syndicate I could see myself picking a track to listen to from time to time, but cannot see a point where I would play the album in its entirety. This has been a demanding review and despite listening to the album many times, the feeling each time the PC goes quiet, has almost been one of relief.
I would certainly say that this is not an album for someone looking for an introduction to the musical genre that is jazz fusion, and seems aimed at the more serious followers of the genre. If you are on the lookout for high-end improvisational jazz fusion then this will be for you; if not, leave it in the rack.
P.S. This review of another Billy Sherwood project would make the score 2-1….with The Fusion Syndicate unfortunately joining The Prog Collective album.
Key Tracks: Random Acts Of Fusion; At The Edge Of The Middle
Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson-MuzikReviews.com Staff
October 30, 2012