More “copy and paste” practice for me from www.progressiveears.com, this time from July 17, 2002, with my review of the album “Time Crunch” by the fusion group Niacin …
For major fans of chunky Hammond B3 sound, this one’s for you. For aficionados of over-the-top, artistic bass playing, this one’s for you. For devotees of crisp, precise, action-packed drumming … well, of course, this one’s for you.
Niacin consists of Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr. Big) on bass; John Novello (Chick Corea, Mr. Big, Taste of Honey) on B3, piano and synths; and Dennis Chambers (Funkadelic/Parliament, Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, John McLaughlin) pounding the living crap out of the drums.
Simply put, this is fusion at its finest with some tasteful jazz and funk thrown in to add even more flavor.
This CD kicks off in overdrive with “Elbow Grease” and only occasionally slows down to let you catch your breath after that. Novello immediately takes you back to the real vintage glory days of the B3 with the sound he pulls out on “Elbow Grease,” and there’s plenty more where that came from. Sheehan’s fingers are working in furious fashion on his Yamaha ‘Attitude’ bass in between Chambers’ fast pace.
AND THAT’S JUST THE FIRST SONG!
Sheehan steps out to the forefront a bit more on the title track and helps lay down some wild and wacky timing among the trio.
Then there’s “Stone Face,” which has perhaps become my favorite track off the entire CD. I described it the following way in a prior Niacin-related thread here and I can’t really improve on this description:
“Sheehan going nuts on the bass and Chambers and Novello each keeping their own time around him in some freaked-up wild ride, then they mellow out, and just when you settle down they kick right back in with Sheehan pumping that bass like Porsche pistons kicking it up to 130 mph. Chambers keeps it all steady. And then Novello goes just as nuts on keys as Sheehan does on bass. And then … IT JUST DROPS OUT LIKE SOMEBODY HAD TO PULL THE PLUG ‘CAUSE IT WAS ALL TOO MUCH!”
Then comes “Red,” the band’s cover of King Crimson‘s old haunting tune. Without a lead guitar, you might ask, how does Niacin handle Robert Fripp’s part? Easy. Just let Novello grind it out on the B3. You won’t miss a thing. There’s even a little “bonus cool-down period” at the end unlike the original.
“Invisible King” provides a nice, timely break from the insanity with some classic — but at the same time original — jazz sounds. Novello’s B3 tone hearkens back to some of the classic players of the ’60s, while also coming up with some very smooth acoustic piano playing that’s very soothing. After having your ears assaulted (in a very good way) up to this point, it’s a nice, relaxing break.
“Daddy Long Leg” picks up the pace a bit again, before the threesome puts down a “phat” and funky groove with “Hog Funk” that throws a mean curve with some very unexpected jazz notes. But for the most part, “Hog Funk” is just that.
“Glow” is three minutes of very pleasant, piano-laced jazz with Novello front and center. It’s all a set-up to get you ready to thrash your head around once “Damaged Goods” kicks in with more of Sheehan’s terrific all-over-the-place, piston-pumping style setting the pace and Chambers steadily keeping the fire going in his own way.
“Outside Inside Out” displays the players’ wonderful sense of cohesiveness. Sheehan, Novello, and Chambers each get a chance to shine together and individually in little solo interludes before coming back to the original theme.
It all ends with a cover of Jan Hammer’s composition “Blue Wind” made popular on his work with guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Beck from Beck’s classic “Wired” and “Live” albums. Again, you may ask, how does this trio handle the guitar part without the lead guitar? Well, again, Novello tackles much of Beck’s riffs on the song while Sheehan does a fine job of coming through on Hammer’s keyboard feel.
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