I was quite curious to listen to The Aristocrats' new album (the group's name,
I'm told, being that of a very famous joke, also of a movie, though I have
to admit this is the first time I've heard of both). The Aristocrats are
a trio of virtuosos, a kind of "supergroup", featuring (in alphabetical
order) Bryan Beller on bass, Guthrie Govan on guitar, and Marco Minnemann
on drums. It goes without saying that
"prodigious technical skills" may sometimes give birth to a gigantic
snooze-fest, and especially so when it comes to those genres where - in so
differently from, say, techno - "monotony" (as in "lack of
variety and interest; tedious repetition, routine") is not one of the
necessary "building blocks", but an unintentional by-product. And
if there is a genre that's especially in danger of producing monotony galore,
this is Fusion (my opinion, of course, but I know I'm not alone in believing
So I'm quite happy I can say that - in spite of those aforementioned
"prodigious technical skills" - the album is quite interesting
and fun to listen to, with more than a few excellent moments. It's a bit
uneven, but since three composers are involved, in a way this was to be expected.
The album sounds quite clear and full of colours, and the recording, mixing,
and mastering are all first class (something which doesn't come cheap, I
suspect, and which has to be much lauded, especially in the current climate
when - the times of chart hits such as Blow By Blow and Surfing With The
Alien being long past - the chances of an instrumental album such as this
entering the Top 40 are quite slim).
first and last pieces are good for instances of the quality and variety
of the music featured on this album.
track, Boing!... I'm In The Back, penned by Minnemann, has a "rock"
start, Beller's bass through his wha-wha pedal (a sound that has fast become
one of his signature sounds), a theme that in a way reminded me of "Beat
groups" from the 60s, and more than a hint towards the second (guitar)
theme from El Becko; also, a few tasty surprises when it comes to the track's
volume, a frantic aroma (almost Zappa-like), a fine guitar solo in a slow
tempo, then it's the wha-wha bass again, flashy double bass drums hit, then
it's the Beck-like theme again, close. Not too bad - in just 4'59"!
track, Beller's Flatlands performs the same function as View, on the album
of the same name: a moment of piece after all the turmoil. It's a beautiful,
melodic theme, slow and "circular", with a limpid chord sequence,
restrained performances by Beller and Minnemann, and an excellent guitar
solo by Govan, agile, with a clean tone and "naked" phrasing
- this would be the perfect track for a movie end-credits.
who are these people? Good question. Bryan Beller is the only member of
the trio whose recorded output I'm reasonably familiar with, especially
when it comes to those albums he has recorded with Mike Keneally, and his
fine solo records; but I have to confess I'm not at all familiar with many
albums in his discography, some of which - starting with those he recorded
with Steve Vai - are maybe the main reason, I suspect, for his popularity
as a bass player. The only thing under Minnemann's name I've listened to
is his collaboration with Mike Keneally, though his CV is quite long and
varied. And I'm more than a bit ashamed to admit this is the first time
I've seen the name Guthrie Govan - who recently appeared on the cover of
Guitar Player! Here I have to say that - provided I was already familiar
with the palette of the players in the
"rhythm section" - for me Govan was a revelation. His qualities
are many - he's an excellent writer, and an instrumentalist of uncommon versatility
who can sound believable in many contexts - but here I'd like to highlight
his clear, transparent attack, which maintains this quality even in the more
album showcases the fine instrumental exchange between the players, instrumental
overdubs being kept at a minimum (this being the "idealized version"
of a fine concert).
my listening sessions - two weeks, via loudspeakers and headphones - I
often thought about the age-old topic: Who's a "slave to technique" -
those who have a lot, or those who have a little? Discuss.)
have a quick look at the remaining pieces.
by Beller, Sweaty Knockers nonchalantly mixes a riff that reminded me of
Led Zeppelin and a "Fusion" melody. Excellent solos from guitar,
bass (the wha-wha again), fireworks from the drums.
Asteroid was penned by Govan. Fine swing, agile hi-hat, and a
"Fusion"-sounding theme that my "selective competence" when
it comes to such matters regards as resembling some tracks by... well, a
pinch of Larry Carlton, a bit of Eric Gale - from the end of the 70s. The
organization of the piece is interesting: the theme is played again, this
time with tone and volume à la Van Halen, pick-up "squeaks" included;
there's a guitar interlude that almost sounds like a Mini-Moog arpeggio,
"metal" solo, then a melodic, "swing", part with wha-wha,
then a clean part (à la Joe Pass), then it's the wha-wha swing again, then
it's the "Fusion" theme, then the Mini-Moog arpeggio, with the "Van
Halen" part as the close. It has to be noticed that the piece sounds
coherent, as a whole, the ingredients placed side-by-side don't sound forced.
It Like That is another Minnemann piece, with a "Fusion" theme
played on the guitar and drums propulsion that reminded me of Narada Michael
Walden. Beller in the background, here the guitar solo reminded me of George
Benson, backed by (maybe I should say, overwhelmed by) Simon Phillips.
Fireworks again from Minnemann, while the piece has a quite strange "metal" ending,
which sounds as having been pasted just to give the piece an ending whatsoever.
wrote Furtive Jack, which sports an elegant, Latin-flavoured theme (a tango?)
which would sound just as good when played by a Big Band or a mariachi
orchestra. The theme has a fine development, a nice fretless bass solo,
with fine chords, and an appropriate "rim-shot" from the drums.
There's a guitar solo - with a pinch of Jeff Beck? - then it's back to
the elegant theme.
last Govan composition here, I Want A Parrot alternates "rock"
moments with melodic ones, with a very fine bass performance by Beller, an
excellent guitar solo, and an excellent performance by Minnemann on drums.
things sag a bit. Though ably performed, Beller's See You Next Tuesday,
off his album View, sounds a bit redundant here (it would be perfect as
a concert encore). Starting with a Beefheartian riff, Minnemann's Blues
Fuckers is without a doubt the weakest moment of the album, with a series
of fragments forced to fit which - as a piece of music - don't amount to
a coherent whole (others will argue differently; as we know so well, everybody
is entitled to my own opinion).
is the aforementioned fine close.
album is available as a digital download, in CD format, with or without
a T-shirt. For my review I (obviously) listened to the CD, but without
© Beppe Colli 2011
| Oct. 11, 2011