BangTower - Casting Shadows
Year of Release: 2010
Label: Declassified Records
Catalog Number: DR-1001
Total Time: 41:59:00
Bangtower's debut was released a-way back in 2010 and again I'm chastising myself for letting a CD wait for ages to get played. Of course, add to that the several months this one has been in rotation and those days and months pile up.
Ah, but now the time has come for me to let my thoughts into the wild. What a potent mix this all instrumental CD is -- the only word that describes it is Yowzaa! Blistering fusion, screaming rock, fiery jazz ... whatever you call it, this trio will blow you away. Of course, this trio has a pedigree that makes a solid release almost a dead certainty. Bassist/keyboardist Percy Jones (Brand X, Tunnels), guitarist/keyboardist Neil Citron (Steve Vai, Rocket Scientists) and drummer/percussionist Walter Garces (Neil Citron, Electric Prunes) comprise this trio and that bit in the parentheses is only a fraction of the credits these artists have individually and, in some cases, collectively.
Even though Citron's guitar is at the focal point for most of the album's 8 tracks, it's hard to classify this as a guitar album, given the percolating bass and rumbling drums that surround those licks and that each instrument gets more than a moment at center stage. With the exception of "Ballad Of Wealth" (a sexy, silky ballad, as the name implies, but not without some intense guitar soloing at around the 3-minute mark) and most of "Man In The Middle" (which suggests something dark and murky due to the slow, deep bass tones coming from Jones; it's a groovy track, a bit funky, keyboard effects adding a bit of an otherworldly atmosphere) Casting Shadows is chock full of pulse pounding energy (careful when you drive with this playing ...). This is one of those albums that has so much going on, so many layers, and great sonic depth. Neil Citron and Jon Pomplin (Project 814, Disguise The Limit) co-produced this CD and it sounds great; a very crisp, clean sound... which is necessary for a CD like this... wouldn't do any good to have top-tier musicians creating stellar music and have poor production.
As much as I love music with vocals, there's something freeing about instrumental music. It is much more visual sonically, as it needs to get the message across in soundcolours. And just what that message is can be what you read into it. Even the most abstract lyrics (such as by Jon Anderson, say), still give a piece a more concrete theme. But here, and with other instrumental rock/jazz/fusion, you can basically create the context and theme. Titles might guide you, but... where does your mind take you?
What's true of nearly every track is that each makes bold statements, but with a pointed clarity. It's not jamming for jamming's sake, there's no drifting off message, even as there are tempo changes, mood changes, shifting of musical energies. It's electric... And even if "Ballad..." and "Man..." aren't full-on jazz/prog/fusion/rock blasts, they have their palpable energy. It's impossible to truly encapsulate, but here are some highlights:
This album screams right from the get go with "BBA"... not sure what it means, but I bet "Big Bad-Ass" is a likely guess because this is a muscular and ballsy track. You know how we critics often say "it will tear your face off" or "grab you by the...," well, some body part? Well, yeh, it's kind like that. It's all in your face, up close and personal, stomping all over you. It's churning windstorm, a tempest, a hurricane... pick your tremendously powerful weather event. Yeh, it's a big, bad-ass of a track, you best not mess with it, just listen and like it.
Another beefy rocker is "Groove Snake" -- Garces kicking out the jams, Citron reeling off chainsaw-like riffs, Jones' bass motoring along. At times it screams (guitar), at times is gets guttural (bass), drums propelling it along at a pace that almost seems breakneck... and about to break that barrier at any second... If you've ever seen a snake slither across a dune, this is what this track is like... when that snake is slithering at race-car speeds.
"Sex Me Up" struts with bravado - the dark churn of bass suggests something a bit dangerous, the searing guitar leads tells you there's something a little dangerous going on. At about the halfway mark, just a bit past, we come to something the made me think "Yes on steroids" ... a combo of that searing guitar and the trio vocalizing some harmonized "ahhs," and then we change into something more comfortable... a bit sexy. "Hair Of The Dog" is a bouncy and brassy toe-tapper -- in fact, the keys add element that sound like a brass section has joined the fun -- full of strutting bass, snickering percussion, and slightly acidic guitar. Jones' bass truly struts, Garces' drums set out an intricate tattoo.
The album closes out with the sharp-tongued, slinky "1%ters."* In a very abstract way, there are elements that made me think of Steely Dan... its just certain notes or phrasing. But on the whole, you wouldn't confuse this with Steely Dan... at least, the commonly known pieces. No, this is an intricately funky track, a bit abstract in spots (some scratching sound effects at one point). There's a liquid, 70s-disco-esque bass solo from Jones at one point; an indescribable guitar solo from Citron that also gives this a 70s jazz-rock feel... and in that, like Steely Dan, but not sounding like Steely Dan (except that now I can't get "Deacon Blue" from playing in my head).
Amongst all that, there's "Let Em Drown," which is darkly moody. Jones' bass solo early in the track is too subtle in the mix, it being overpowered by the widely spaced drum accompaniment. But Citron's guitar tears it up in what sounds at times like doubled-leads. The sound is thick... well, that does give a sense of drowning, but in something heavier, denser than water. It's for me the least effective track; by no means bad, but there's a hesitant energy here, where elsewhere it's full-on.
This release is a contender for my "posthumous" best of 2010 list.*Prescient about the Occupy Movement? While comments by Garces at ProgSheet, published by John A Wilcox (presently found here) reveal this not to be the case, I found some interesting little bits that made me wonder at first if it wasn't prescient. The CD was released in September 2010; the Occupy Wall Street movement didn't start until September 2011, so there's a year gap... And there's the track "Ballad Of Wealth"... hmm... Well, hmm, except that Garces says "The name came as a tribute to all the rock bands that have made so much $$$$$$$$$ from their ballads." And so, we have to say contrarily, I'm sure the terms "99-percenters" and "1-percenters" has been around longer than OWS, given the those in those groupings have been around for years, decades... it was always thus?
BBA (6:55) / Sex Me Up (4:17) / Hair Of The Dog (6:47) / Let Em Drown (3:51) / Ballad Of Wealth (6:31) / Man In The Middle (5:06) / Groove Snake (3:22) / 1%ters (5:11)
Percy Jones - fretless bass, keyboards
Neil Citron - guitars, keyboards
Walter Garces - drums, percussion
Casting Shadows (2010)
Genre: Fusion-Jazz Fusion
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