Bryan Beller

(Onion Boy)

While unknown to most, Bryan Beller's name means a lot to those Frank Zappa fans who for about a decade have been listening to Mike Keneally: a musician whose output sports a very low rate of vampirism and very large quantities of enthusiasm and of fertile results, quite differently from some of the Maestro's former sidemen. It's almost ten years ago, in fact, that Beller started playing bass alongside Keneally. His very young age notwithstanding, Beller immediately proved to be a fine instrumentalist, later maturing into a nice versatility (if I'm not mistaken, he's the only Keneally collaborator to have remained in the group for so long). Two years ago I saw the large group in Holland for two nights in a row; the repertory was extremely large and diverse. Beller proved to be a solid instrumentalist with nerves of steel, making sure the group navigated the leader's difficult charts while Keneally went into uncharted territories on his guitar.

View is Beller's first solo album, and in a way it's only logical that here we find a certain air that we've already breathed on Keneally's albums; here we have Toss Panos and Joe Travers, two drummers who in the past have contributed to Keneally's music; we have Keneally himself, both on guitar and keyboards; we have Rick Musallam, the versatile guitar player who's a member of Keneally's current quartet, who builds the foundations for some tracks and who proves to be a revelation in the cases when he has to lead. Nick D'Virgilio, the excellent drummer of the current quartet, engineered and mixed. Beller produced.

If I stress the link to Keneally it's not to negate Bryan Beller's aesthetic and creative autonomy - he's his own man, and this record could very well prove to be the first step in a long trip with many surprises and satisfying moments; but only to underline the fact that - quite differently from most rock music I hear nowadays: sterile, retro, carbon copy, commercial, derivative - Beller's album is one of those rare instances of a rock CD one can actually listen to without feeling ashamed. It's electric music, very well played (to me it matters quite a bit), with multiple references: blues, jazz, a bit of fusion (but not fuzak! Let's say Jeff Beck circa Blow By Blow - listen to Get Things Done), a pinch of Zappa (the Roxy And Elsewhere/The Helsinki Concert band) or, better said, Keneally in his melancholic/Zappa mode - check the theme to Eighteen Weeks.

Mostly instrumental, this is an album one can enjoy in its entirety, even if some of the things are a bit weaker than the rest (in my opinion Bite - while not out of place on Rick Dees' Weekly Top 40 - is out of place here), but the album works fine as a whole. As a composer, Beller is a man of sure hand and limpid gestures - he never has to call instrumental ability into action to keep the record out of trouble for lack of logic. Some tracks are for acoustic/electric bass only: the melodic Bear Divide, which opens the record; the high voltage Elate; the cover version of John Patitucci's Backwoods; and No, which appears to refer to Mingus with a tip of the hat to Monk.

Seven Percent Grade is a complex rocker (here a lot of the tracks at first seem to be simple, but reveal their complexity with each listening session), with a very fine Musallam on guitar and Keneally on piano. There's a nice group sound in Supermarket People, with a beautiful musical interplay between the Hammond organ (Jeff Babko) and the guitar (Keneally, who in my opinion plays here the best solo of the album and one of the best of his whole career - and who plays the uncredited piano?). The long Get Things Done is not bad, either. Eighteen Weeks is maybe the most successful track on the record, surely the most complex: three strings, Tricia Steel's vibes, an exceptional "Musallam in feedback". Wildflower is a nice song, sung with pleasant assurance by Beller, who also plays keyboards (also in other parts of the record). See You Next Tuesday is a trio of diabolical complexity: Beller, Keneally and Panos (Half Alive in Hollywood all over again?). In closing, View has a melody that's impossible to forget and that Jeff Beck should absolutely cover on his next record. (Who's this guy? Griff Peters? My compliments! For the nice touch and the vintage tube sound - less evil that Jeff Beck's).

So is everything perfect? Of course not. For one, I have to confess I'm not terribly enamoured of the sound of this acoustic/electric bass - and I found the fret noise to be especially annoying. In general, though I find Beller's personality quite present in his choice of notes to me it's still not so apparent in their timbre - that (not so) elusive quality that makes us tell a bass player after half a note. But these are minor points, really. Get this album and enjoy.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | Dec. 6, 2003