Tunnels - Progressivity

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Buckyball Recordings
Catalog Number: BR009
Format: CD
Total Time: 72:16:00

Tunnels, who formed more than 10 years ago, released their third CD Progressivity last year. Their style is fusion, but not, as the liner notes clearly state, "the watered down, lame variety that came along in the late '70s and early '80s (when the once noble experiment became codified, fell out of favor with fans and was branded with the stigma of 'the F word' by critics." I'll take his - Bill Milkowski (Jazz Times, author) - word for it, not being one of the fusion cognescenti. Tunnels' sound his highly percussive, but when you have a "traditional" percussionist in Frank Katz on drums and a "non-traditional" percussionist in Marc Wagnon on vibes, and in this case midi-vibes, that's to be expected. The warning is to not play while "under the influence of smooth jazz." Yes, if you are expecting something easy on the ears and brain, then you'd better look elsewhere as there are twists and turns and sonic bursts that give this release the angularity that fusion fans look for, though perhaps some of those hard edges are a bit smoother than some would like. But not always, the latter portion of the opening track "Syzygy Incident" demonstrates, or even the final portion where Wagnon goes wild on his midi-vibes. The third member of this troika is ex-Brand X bassist Percy Jones playing fretless bass.

Of the album's 10 tracks, three stood out the most for me, beginning with the second track, "Wall To Wall Sunshine." It is Katz' drums that are very much up front, to the point where they are on par with the fiery and acidic leads from both guitarist John Goodsall and violinist Mark Feldman. The title is an apt description, as the piece is like walking right into the sun. Feldman's sharp violin returns on "Frank's Beard" a piece that, after about three minutes, changes so dramatically, you think it's the next track (a check of the player confirms it's not). This piece leads into an explosion of percussion from Katz at about the 8-plus minute mark, but here the brief fretless bass work from Jones holds more interest.

The throbbing "Diabollocks" is the most interesting track here - interesting in that Mr. Spock's arched eyebrow kind of way. You can almost hear Nimoy's voice say, "Facinating." This reaction comes mainly because of the what can only be described as sci-fi effects - wobbles, boings, etc. It's a piece that makes you wonder what will come next, and from where, and will you be able to get out of the way in time. It is odd metered, though I couldn't tell you what it was. It becomes almost "traditional" with the vibes of Wagnon and the fretless bass of Jones, but even then?

Sarah Pillow contributes "prepared voice" to a pair of tracks, but I'm not sure what this means exactly - I mean, one would hope that Wagnon hadn't caught her unawares, singing in the shower (they're married, you see). Silliness aside, it isn't until "Orfeo's Demon" that I hear Pillow, her vocal utterances giving this piece a bit of an African feel, aided by the rhythmic percussion. But this changes, as the piece gets a slinky, silky heat to it, Jones' bass grinding away. What chills this piece a little bit is the bursts of electronic drums, but things do remain relatively warm throughout and a bit ethereal.

I guess really four caught my hear, as there's a nice walking bass tone to start the noodly "High Tea At 49th And 10th," while Wagnon's midi-vibes bring in some eerie sci-finess - a piece with that X-Files cool hipness Marc Snow's score sometimes got, though the jazz element is, of course, here much more a factor.

"7,594,333,440 Miles Away," is at times a funky piece, the odd rhythm bringing a bit of humour to the proceedings. In the blurbs about each piece, it is noted about this one that the number refers to "the distance, at the time of the recording of the tune, [that] of one of the farthest human made object[s] from Earth, a probe called Pioneer[, was at.]" This is also the longest piece on the album at more than 20 minutes. As each member of the trio feels they have something to say, the focus shifts to them, the others following along until an idea comes to them, all keeping pretty much in the same general sonic territory laid out at the outset, though the humour has evaporated as the members seem to have become quite serious and intense. It comes to a chaotic peak at about the 10 minute mark? but that isn't, of course, the conclusion. After this point, it seems to loose direction, heading off in several directions at once. While that style of composition can work, here it just seems like each are waiting for the other to follow their lead. Failing that, there comes a point where things quiet down - a moment of introspection as a new direction - or I guess keeping with the theme, a new orbit - is established? it just takes a while to get there. Things get some focus again about five minutes before the end, but even then Katz seems to be waiting for some cue to finish while Wagnon plays more leads--- however, the balance of these instruments is inverted, so what we latch onto is the waiting Katz rather than the riffing Wagnon. How they make it smoothly back to where they started is marvelous though. And at this point Goodsall joins in with more searing guitar leads to help close out this track. It would have been, for me, much more solid at about fifteen minutes (first ten plus last five), but even then, things seemed stretched beyond the limits for the last minute or so.

The title track is a more conventional fusion piece - though still keeping with the band's objective. On this Wagnon composed piece, vibes are center stage, creating cascading and arching sheets of sound. He does yield to Feldman's nervously sweet violin for a bit. Katz's percussion is never far from absent, here making a lot of use of his cymbals while the drums sit back in the mix, keeping up a steady throb. Jones's bass is only heard really for brief snatches. "Some Things Must Last" also seems more? conventional. Feldman's violin sings sweetly over taut percussion from Katz (though the cymbals seem a little soft to me). Wagnon's vibes have a decidedly synth sound about them, such that if you didn't know otherwise, you'd think it were a synth ? in a way it is, given Gagnon's set up (a Mallet Kat Pro, Roland 760 sampler and a Yamaha EX5R synth/sampler). Let's say then instead, fingers running over a keyboard.

If you really dig fusion and all its complexity, shifting texture, etcetera, then you'll surely like Tunnels. In the wider view, I liked this release and it's jazzy fell. But up close, I found some pieces overlong and some of the dynamics similar. Not that the tracks themselves sounded the same, but that? well, in way, yes, that is it. Maybe I was expecting a little something more, I don't know. But I like enough of it that I think it rises above the average level and closer to good.

Syzygy Incident (7:32) / Wall To Wall Sunshine (4:28) / Frank's Beard (9:26) / Diabollocks (6:00) / Progressivity (6:35) / 7,584, 333, 440 Miles Away (20:28) / Some Things Must Last (5:02) / Fusionauts (4:45) / Orfeo's Demon (5:17) / High Tea At 49th And 10th (4:03)

Percy Jones - fretless bass
Marc Wagnon - midi-vibes
Frank Katz - drums

Special guests:

John Goodsall - guitar (2, 6, 8)
Mark Feldman - violin (2, 3, 5, 7)
Sarah Pillow - prepared voice (4, 9)

Tunnels With Percy Jones (1994/1999)
Painted Rock (1999)
Progressivity (2003)
The Art Of Living Dangerously (2003)
Natural Selection (2006)

Genre: Fusion/Jazz Fusion

Origin VA

Added: July 13th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.buckyballmusic.com
Hits: 501
Language: english


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