Year of Release: 2004
Catalog Number: n/a
Total Time: 52:05:00
Now here's a challenge for you all. If anyone can find me a disc which - inside the first three minutes - changes style from gentle acoustic, to strutting flamenco, to a lazy blues drawl, seamlessly and without missing a beat, I'll give them a dollar. Ok, I won't. But I'd be willing to bet that if anyone could find me such a disc, it'd be Instrumental Retrospective, the first compilation album from the remarkable Steve Unruh. As the title suggests, this is a selection of instrumentals taken from 1996-2001, including his solo albums, band projects, and a couple of previously unreleased tracks.
One of the most striking things about this disc is the number of different musical styles which are used. Unruh has a gift for juggling genres, and can somehow take totally different styles, put them next to each other, and make it sound completely natural. It's not until the music is closely scrutinised that one realises that the stylistic mixture shouldn't work. Yet somehow it does. As mentioned, the first track, "Blue Gypsy Overture," switches between flamenco, neoclassical and blues. "Leaving Spain," which follows it, begins with baroque, changes to a gentle Simon-and-Garfunkel-esque rock, throws in a passage of Spanish, and features a flute solo. The previously unreleased "Guitar Piece (For Ena)" is a harpsichord-like unaccompanied guitar piece, and there are two very stylish jazz pieces featured ? "Walt's Blues" and "Melody Of Broken Lies." Nothing unusual there, totally normal. Of course.
Unruh is also multi-instrumental, with him playing almost everything on the album. The only tracks which aren't all his work are those from his featured band projects, The Sign of Saturn and the Egeria Jazz Trio. He uses a lot of violin in his work, quite a bit of it electric. In fact, as I write this, I'm browsing his site and I've just stumbled on his violin gallery ? the man makes his own electric violins, is there anything he can't do? Also featured is some beautiful flute work.
A lot of these instrumentals are taken from albums which have running themes, so they are generally an integral part of the mood and feel of their parent album. "Lotus' Land," taken from Beginning Of A New Day, is slightly playful; "Intro/Rainsong" from Two Little Awakenings begins reflective, almost nostalgic, but is dancing merrily by the end; "Improvisation In Red," also from Awakenings, is a fast and furious percussive solo, broken by a sensual czardas on the violin.
The musical variety of Steve Unruh's work is one of the things which makes it truly special, and Instrumental Retrospective is an excellent cross-section of what he's done to date. It may be a useful way to introduce newcomers to Unruh's work, and will also be a treat for established fans. Highly recommended.
[This review originally appeared May 2004 at the ProgPower Online review site -ed.]
Blue Gypsy Overture (re-recorded 2004) / Leaving Spain (remastered 2004) / Impression (previously unreleased, remastered 2004) / Lotus' Land (remastered 2004) / Intro/Rainsong (remastered 2004) / Guitar Piece (For Ena) (new recording, 2004) / Walt's Blues (remastered 2004) / Melody Of Broken Lies (remastered 2004) / Improvisation In Red (remastered 2004)
Steve Unruh - steel-string and classical guitars, acoustic and electric violins, electric bass, flute, drumkit, misc. percussion, and vocal 'la da da.'
Kirk Scott - guitar (7, 8)
Kevin Kehrberg - upright bass (7, 8)
Sign Of Saturn - Sign Of Saturn (1996)
The Beginning Of A New Day (1998)
Egeria Jazz Trio - Egeria Jazz Trio (2000)
The Dayfly - Album (2000)
DT & BW Records Sampler (2001)
Two Little Awakenings (2001)
Invisible Symphony (2002)
Out Of The Ashes (2004)
Instrumental Retrospective (2004)
Song To The Sky (2005)
Genre: Progressive Folk