(Recently reviewed for Jazz Times; direct link)
It must have felt like fusion heaven last November, when the sometimes maligned music’s big names and relative newcomers gathered for two days of performances in Raleigh, N.C. Fourteen tunes by seven of the acts, variously blending jazz, rock, world music and jam-band strains, are heard on The New Universe Music Festival 2010. Yes, direct and indirect references to fusion’s old-school—Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report—are abundant here. But those long susceptible to the myriad pleasures of the genre won’t be disappointed, and first-timers may become converts via the intensity, high energy, creativity and displays of instrumental virtuosity contained on this two-CD set.
Several genuine fusion stars are on hand. John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension, with bassist Etienne M’Bappe, drummer Mark Mondesir and keyboardist/second drummer Gary Husband, serves up the speed riffing of “Recovery” and hooks up with the guitarist’s old Shakti partner, tabla legend Zakir Hussain, for the stretching, pulsating “Mother Tongues.” RTF drummer Lenny White leads a quintet with guitarist Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic, the Dead, Allman Brothers) on the blues-tinted “Door #3” and Joe Henderson’s tricky-riffing “Gazelle.”
Herring and a Project Z bandmate, drummer Jeff Sipe, head a quartet with bassist Neil Fountain and keyboardist Matt Slocum on the alternately meditative and rowdy “Rainbow,” moody ballad “Gray Day” and a pleasantly trippy, sliding and bending stroll through George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You.” There’s more mixing and matching throughout, as Sipe and Fountain team with guitarist Alex Machacek for the candy-colored lines of “Strafe” and the initially meditative “Very Sad.” Guitarist Wayne Krantz is heard in two bands, both with monster bassists: Matthew Garrison on “Vignesh” and “Origin” and Anthony Jackson on “Why.” And Garrison and Joe Zawinul-loving keyboardist Scott Kinsey also put in multiple appearances. Fusion lives.