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Music Reviews

Niacin

Niacin

Time Crunch

Magna Carta

This is a fast and smooth jazz-fusion album, featuring mostly drum and bass — and a keyboardist sitting in playing some neat melody — that was created and produced by great talents with great musical taste. This outing from Niacin, Billy Sheehan’s project, features Dennis Chambers (who has worked with Stanley Clarke, George Clinton and others) on the drums, John Novello (known for his works with Chick Corea and Andy Summers) playing the keyboards, and Sheehan on the bass.

This album is based on jazz, inspired by progressive rock, but insanely groovy and smooth, merging the boundaries of rock and jazz — and making it one great album that is fluid, soulful and very enjoyable. Much to be mentioned about the tight musical performance by the three musicians as well. Sheehan’s bass playing is phenomenally fast and precise; which combined with Chambers’ killer drumwork provide a solid foundation for Novello’s moody and sensual sounding Hammond organs. Except for the pensive toned track “Glow,” the entire album is brisk and intense; however, displaying a side of playfulness and levity. The album also features two great covers: King Crimson’s “Red” and Jan Hammer’s “Blue Wind.”

Highly recommended instrumental album!

Magna Carta Records: http://www.magnacarta.com/

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Music Reviews

Jean Luc Ponty

Jean Luc Ponty

Life Enigma

J.L.P.

Life Enigma is the first album in as many as seven years from Jean Luc Ponty, a French violonist. But after listening to this excellent jazz fusion album, it is understandable why it took him so long to record Life Enigma — it is a very well produced, modern album incorporating acid-jazz, and drum n’ bass; a departure from his earlier works in a positive direction. Ponty’s previous album had his synthesizer work on computers overshadow his violin playing, but this album has his electric violin shining through throughout — something that would possibly be very well received by his fans.

Tracks “Signals From Planet Earth” and “The Infinite Human Caravan” are awesome (drum n’ bass) tracks highlighting the two percussionists and bassist, accompanying Ponty. William Lecomte, the pianist, is heard occasionally, playing great supplementary role. The chemistry among the band members and their musical abilities are very noteworthy. “Even the Sun Will Die” features stellar bass work by Guy Nsangue Akwa, matched well by the percussionist and Ponty. “Love at Last Sight,” one of my favorite tracks, has a solid piano solo, and the album closes with “And Life Goes On,” featuring a superb bass solo.

Much to be said about the production of the album as well — it is produced by Ponty himself, with the production reflecting his range and creativity. The tones are clear, rich, subtle, and crisp. Definitely one of Ponty’s best albums ever.

Jean Luc Ponty: http://www.ponty.com/

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Music Reviews

Vinnie Moore

Vinnie Moore

Defying Gravity

Shrapnel

If you have not heard of Vinnie Moore, he is an outstanding guitar player and musician in the ranks of Joe Satriani, Steve Morse, and Yngwie Malmsteen (he is grossly underrated, though). So, naturally, this is an album of exceptional guitar instrumentals, mostly in neo-classical, progressive styles, composed with great taste and tremendous musicianship. Moore’s style of playing is quite distinctive in this album, however: no cunning stunts or experimentations here, but mostly impressive scale runs, arpeggios, and beautiful playing of carefully chosen notes. Starting from track one, the Vinman gets busy with the fretboard, combining technical prowess with song writing and beautiful melodies – until track nine, “In the Blink of an Eye,” a relaxed bluesy tune with meticulously played soothing notes. There seems to be plenty of Spanish influence in this album, too. “Last Road Home” and “Equinox” are played on Flamenco guitar very tastefully.

On this album, Vinnie Moore is assisted by some talented musicians such as Dave LaRue (The Dregs) on bass, Steve Smith (Journey) on drums, and David Rosenthal (Rainbow) on keyboards.

I have been listening to this record for a couple of weeks now, and I am quite pleased with the music and guitar tones. Being a guitar enthusiast and player myself, I want to learn some of the impressive riffs and scale runs from this album. Well recommended.

Shrapnel Records: http://www.shrapnelrecords.com

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Music Reviews

Joe Satriani

Joe Satriani

Engines Of Creation

Epic

Joe Satriani surprises his fans once again with this new twist! One is bound to wonder how many interesting albums an instrumentalist could release without getting repetitive and cliched. But Satriani, whose strongest forte is his guitar playing, has kept his creative juices flowing for more than a decade now by venturing into new territories, all the while keeping the emphasis of his music on melody and guitar instrumentalism. He has always been careful to keep himself from being over-indulgent on the guitar — a habit which has given him an edge over fellow instrumentalists — and has made his music more accessible to the less guitar-inclined. With the self-titled Joe Satriani, Satriani explored the blues-rock arena; the next release, Crystal Planet, was more of a return to his signature style; with Engines Of Creation, Satriani is out exploring again. And it is exciting!

Stylewise, Satriani has made the biggest shift in this album — to electronic music. Don’t fret guitar enthusiasts, guitars and instrumentals are still the main focus, but they are covered with layers of electronic textures and rhythms. For fans who simply want those insane solos: you might be a little disappointed, but this album does carry a few of those, too. In Engines Of Creation, Satriani has found ways to nicely blend new tones from his guitar and from electronica (courtesy of one Eric Caudieux) into interesting, novel pieces. “Devil’s Slide,” the opening track, sports typical Satriani guitar through a processor accompanied by techno-rhythms. “Flavor Crystal 7” is purely experimental — intriguing. You’ve got to check it out!

“Until We Say Goodbye” is very reminiscent of Satriani from Surfing with the Alien. More experimental music on “Borg Sex” and “Attack.” “Clouds Race Across The Sky” is slow-paced over cool South-American style beats. All in all, Engines Of Creation is a bold step for a guitarist like Joe Satriani, but his training in technique and his flair for style have come to his aid. This sounds like an exciting and promising direction, if Satriani should choose to continue on this vein.

Epic, 550 Madison, 22nd Floor, New York, NY 10022-3211

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Music Reviews

Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses

Live Era 1987-93

Geffen

In a way, I am happy to hear a new release from one of my favorite bands, after nearly eight years! Covered by controversies and fraught with interpersonal troubles, Guns N’ Roses as a band was fighting for survival; then the wave of alternative music took over, and it was almost decided that the last was heard from the GNR camp. Therefore, it is surprising to see some activity again — besides this release, Axl Rose, along with Dave Navarro (under GNR’s name) has a track on the soundtrack for End Of Days .

Although the extent of involvement from the rest of the original band is not known, Live Era 1987-93 is essentially a greatest hits collection culled from the band’s heyday concert performances in London, Paris, Tokyo, Budokan, etc… Guns N’ Roses, a band fun to watch live due to its stage dynamics and charisma, has captured the true essence of those live shows in these two discs. Most of the tracks here are from GNR’s first release, Appetite For Destruction , with the rest of the material from the later two Use Your Illusion albums and GNR Lies . Besides all the hits and radio classics, this album carries

some not so popular but cool numbers like “Move to the City,” “Pretty Tied Up,” and “Estranged,” too. There is also a cover of Black Sabbath’s “It’s Alright,” featuring Axl Rose on a piano, which is fairly good. But my favorite parts on this album are the ones where Slash opens the gates of shredville for his signature style of flashy and fiery guitar leads. The combination of Slash’s excellent guitar work and Axl’s ferocious top-of-the-lung vocals, I believe, propelled Guns N’ Roses to the top.

In these days of rap-metal popularity, one is likely to think that Live Era is out of date and might not fly, but staples like “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Sweet Child Of Mine,” which have become timeless classics, bear witness to the lasting legacy of Guns N’ Roses, and they ought to make this listening relevant as well as nostalgic.

Geffen Records, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069

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Music Reviews

Metallica

Metallica

S & M

Elektra

Metallica has constantly been exploring new ideas and concepts in their releases. From thrashing heavy metal at its super-raw state in Kill ‘Em All to mainstream rock, southern, and blues in Load and Reload , the musical themes have always been different. This constant change, of course, has lost some fans for the band on the way, but mostly these twists have made listening to the band more exciting and enjoyable. (What-would-they-think-of-next? types.) Following suit, S & M is a departure for Metallica from the styles it was known for.

Simply put, S & M is a double disc of best-of-Metallica played live, with the San Francisco Symphony playing in. Except for the two previously-unreleased songs, “Human” and “No Leaf Clover,” all tracks are taken from Metallica’s studio albums, from Master Of Puppets to Re-Load . (The fun track is “The Ecstasy Of Gold,” a remake of the catchy tune from the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly .) Musically, the orchestra and Metallica meld and blend very well in most numbers, especially in the slow ones like “The Call of the Ktulu” or “Nothing Else Matters,” but on fast-paced thrash tunes like “Battery,” Metallica goes out all the way and pounds the living day lights out, kind of oblivious of the orchestra playing. (Like the “darkness imprisoning me…” part from “One”). But this is very well composed, orchestrated, and produced, a lot of credit for which is due to the conductor and co-producer Michael Kamen, who is known for his attention to detail and nuance. (The main producer is Bob Rock, who produced Load and Re-Load .)

Metallica is not the first band to have tried the rock-symphony fusion, (Deep Purple, ELP, and few others have done it before) and S & M may not be the best that one would expect out of a metal band… but this is from a band that loves to play live and known for being good at it. So, if the nice folks who criticize Metallica as having gone “soft” or weird would give this album a willing try, they would find this bold musical move to be fun and worthwhile.

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Music Reviews

Joe Lynn Turner

Joe Lynn Turner

Undercover 2

Shrapnel

As the title of this album hints, this is a set of covers of popular classic rock tunes by legendary vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, who is known for his stints with Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force. I like this record, and I see many merits to it. First off, it’s JLT — his vocals are impressively powerful and highly versatile. Next, the guitarist adds aggression, speed, edge and punch. (Sadly, there is no mention of who the guitarist is, or credits, in the inside sleeve.) Thirdly, the songs covered are popular classic rock, with whose lyrics I am fairly familiar. So this has made a good driving record for me. Highlights include killer renditions of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” UFO’s “Rock Bottom,” Deep Purple’s “Lady Double Dealer,” Bad Company’s “Moving On,” and a rocking, chops-heavy version of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild.” There are also covers of Whitesnake’s “Fool For Your Loving,” Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town,” Derringer’s “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo,” and Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You.”

Despite the age and banality of the original versions of most of these covers, this album won me over because of its discovered newness for re-doing classic rock, and its relentless, astounding guitar work.

Shrapnel Records, P.O.Box P, Novato, CA 94948; http://www.shrapnelrecords.com/

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Event Reviews

Ted Nugent

Ted Nugent

with Chlorine

House Of Blues, Orlando • August 5, 1999

I enjoy going to concerts, irrespective of the band playing — unless the band is notoriously known to suck at playing live. I enthuse all the more when the show features a good guitarist. So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to see Ted Nugent play live at the House of Blues, Orlando on the seventh of August, even though I had not heard of any of Nugent’s music other than the radio staple “Cat Scratch Fever.” I also heard that he was politically a rightist in a weird sort of way, and his show could be quite a spectacle. So I was quite pumped about going to the show.

After a little delay of schedules the opening band, Chlorine came on stage. This is a four-piece band with tons of energy and stage presence; they were a very exciting band to see play live. I could feel my blood rising to my head when the lead singer/guitarist screamed and stepped up to the microphone for the opening number. They played their radio-popular “Don’t Even Care” and some other tunes from their latest release, Primer . But the crowd really got into the show when they covered a couple of popular tunes, including Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” About Chlorine’s performance: The guitarist was impressive. He pulled off some memorable riffs with his slide and harmonics. Despite their little out-of-date alternative tone, I liked Chlorine for their strong guitar work, enthusiasm, and their tight live performance as a band.

Then Ted Nugent, aka the Motor City Madman, went on-stage. Nuge, as he was introduced, came out donning a cowboy-hat, a fox tail tucked in the back of his jeans, and slinging a white Gibson… complete with an evil grin and a hard stare, the whites of his eyes popping out. I thought it was funny.

On the stage, there were articles like stuffed bears, skulls, etc., which I suppose were to indicate of Nugent’s inclination towards hunting. I started getting an impression that this show was more of an expression of his attitude and less of musical entertainment, when he went on repeatedly that his Gibson guitars were made in the USA, and that anyone who did not speak English should leave the USA. Musically, Mr. Nugent was good, though. He shredded on his guitar mercilessly for nearly two hours. The drummer is a real madman: a few minutes into his drum solo, he threw away the sticks and began flailing with his bare hands. Actually, he was pretty cool with his double bass drums and quite a sizable drum set. (I would have been impressed with this guy, but, you know, I am too pampered after listening to drummers like Neil Peart.) The crowd participated vociferously in songs titled “Kiss My Ass” and “Wang Dang Poontang.”

It was funny when Nugent started playing some old soul and R&B style songs (from the woman standing next to me, I gathered, they were old James Brown tunes) and kept insisting that he was just another black man. Towards the end of the show, Nugent took a bow and arrow, lit the arrow from the fire at the front of the stage, and shot a Gibson guitar. The crowd was thrilled, but I thought, “man, he just ruined a $2,000 guitar!” The band came back and played “Cat Scratch Fever” for an encore, much to the delight of the audience.

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Music Reviews

Alice In Chains

Alice In Chains

Nothing Safe

Columbia

This is a best-of CD featuring fifteen songs culled from albums released over a period of nearly ten years, by one of the most popular and successful bands of the Nineties, Alice In Chains. “Get Born Again”, the only exception, is a new track, recorded in ’98. The familiar amalgam of Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell shows through nicely in this song, but sadly there is nothing more to it. There is also a demo version of “We Die Young” (originally from the album Facelift ), which rocks harder and heavier than the studio version.

Other notables include: “Got Me Wrong” from MTV Unplugged , underlining Staley’s nasal style, a live version of “Rooster,” and “What The Hell Have I,” from the soundtrack to the movie Last Action Hero . Radio staples like “Man in the Box,” “I Stay Away,” and “Them Bones” are included, too. Note: this is an enhanced compact disc with multimedia material about Alice In Chains.

This is the first Alice In Chains CD that I have come to own, and I think I like it.

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Music Reviews

Def Leppard

Def Leppard

Euphoria

Mercury

I believe 1999 is supposed to be the year of comeback for the pop-rockers and hair bands that were popular in the late eighties. Poison, Ratt, and L.A. Guns are touring, and many others are back to writing new material for release. I suppose, Def Leppard’s new album, Euphoria , is in a similar vein as they try one more time to attain stardom, after their unsuccessful attempt with Slang in 1996. Def Leppard chose the then trendy “sludgy” tone for Slang , which rather proved to be a flop. So, seemingly, they revert to their Eighties formula of hooky pop metal produced to perfection, that sold millions, for Euphoria . With Mutt Lange (who produced mega-hits like Hysteria for Def Leppard) back as producer for parts of this album, songs like “Demolition Man” and “Promises” are very reminiscent of their popular days, but this is not quite Pyromania or Hysteria . Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen shine on this album (as usual) with some killer guitar riffs and solos (that exhort you to pick up your guitar and learn them — if you’re keen on guitars, that is.) “Disintegrate,” the instrumental (perhaps the first one to make it to a Def Leppard studio album) is neat. “Promises” and “All Night” are bound to hit big.

Mercury Records, 825 Eighth Avenue, Eigth Floor, New York, NY 10019