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2012 release from Fusion pioneers, Tribal Tech. X documents the latest musical journey of this revered Jazz Fusion super group, known for their complex arrangements and phenomenal solo interplay. On X, the members of Tribal Tech, Scott Henderson, Gary Willis, Scott Kinsey, and Kirk Covington once again throw convention out the window and entered the studio without a set list of heavy arrangements. Instead, each member brought musical sketches to the table and they turned on the tape machines and bravely set out to play together as a unit. Tribal Tech has delivered perhaps the most phenomenal recording of their impressive 25+ year history as a band. This album embraces the group dynamic. Only when you have a rich band history forged by virtuoso musicians, can you achieve the kind of synergistic genius that Tribal Tech reaches on X.
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Scott Henderson is a guitar chameleon - changing colours and shades with each new track yet always his inimitable sound always comes through. That sweet distorted legato scream that funnels into the dirtiest of tones that shift with each bebop line - his playing is endlessly fascinating. Without a doubt Henderson is one of the most amazing guitarists on the planet. In the opening track, 'Mech X' a menacing Hendrix-like crescendo of sound develops which intrigued me and had me concerned that perhaps a new more chaotic TT style was emerging. I am pleased to say that an avalanche of thundering carefully crafted typical TT unison lines power through - this is a powerful statement at the beginning of the album.
'Got Faith 'N Phat' is a classic grooving TT track with Scott Kinsey's keys sounding so much like a Tower of Power horn section that I looked at the liner notes to see who was playing. Gary Willis's bass is stunning - pulsing delicately in places and then pumping. Each new track he seems more impressive. His choice of notes and articulation is superb. And when you think you've heard everything along comes his beautiful fretless playing on 'Anthem'. He is a monster and deserves wider recognition.
Kirk Covington certainly gets round the kit - what I noted though is his choice of drum sound for each track and amazing cymbal work and sounds. I sensed that his typical muscular role although still evident throughout the album seemed to focus on supporting the compositions and interplay rather than making drum statements. I am not suggesting he is not supportive on other albums, but rather, in my opinion, that this is one of his maturest performances playing in the pocket with TT.
I loved the slow 'Palm Moon Plaza', a tour-de-force of Henderson guitaring sounding much like Jeff Beck, that builds with intensity until the repeated single guitar note over some rich beds of keyboard sound and then the delicate Kinsey piano culmination.
'Gravity' sounds like it could have been off 'Nomad', 'Illicit' or 'Face first'. A tight ripper of a track that is less organic than some of the other tracks. That's not a criticism but rather an observation as I was thinking prior to hearing 'X' that this album may have been complete improvisation. I am glad it's not. It's a great album and up there with their best albums - although I don't think this surpasses what they have already achieved.
These are funny guys - you open the liner notes - and... I'll not spoil the fun. Needless to say all through this album and culminating in the announcement of 'Corn butter' the final track, you know they're laughing in a Zappa-esque kind of way.
I am happy - another Tribal Tech album to savour, to be enthralled, amused and entertained for a long time to come.
P.S. Please - we need a live DVD of Tribal Tech for the fan base outside the USA.
The best part, for me at least, runs #4-7: 'anthem' kicks off with an extended, gorgeous improvisation from Gary Willis, who proves once again he's an unanointed master of the fretless bass guitar, which is countered by shrieking guitar expressionism. The balladistic 'palm moon plaza' features a guitar - synth. duet and - following a bass bridge - further exploration by Henderson and Kinsey. 'Gravity', being vaguely reminiscent of the tune 'foreign affairs' ("Reality Check" #9), offers a somewhat funk-based jazz theme and otherworldy synth. sound, while the relaxed bluesy head of 'working blue' quickly morphs into something quite different, illustrating well the fine, sometimes radical, change of emphasis observable elsewhere. For instance, on #3 'time lapse' having a space opera-like melody and roving bass and keyboard solos.
Fun pieces include the groovy #2 'got faith 'n phat', as well as the odd-one-out, quaintish #9 'let's get swung' and the concluding song #10 'corn butter' that harkens back, imho, to 'uh...yeah ok' ("Face First" #6). The opener 'mech x' (cf. 'torque' on "Illicit" #4) is a hard-hitting tune with some rock sensibility, whereas the oriental exotic #8 'ask me a question' furnishes the listener w/ weird samples and sitar-guitar fx. Total time: 58.27 min.
As a long-time fan fortunate enough to be present at five of their concerts between ?1993 and ?2002 at a Vienna (Austria) venue that required ca. 500-km roundtrip drive each time, I can assure you Tribal Tech reach their full potential on stage. In case you haven't got this music in cd format, you'll surely miss a good laugh the inside cover provides (courtesy of saxophonist, ewi player Steve Tavaglione).