By: Stephen Conrad, Progressive Rock Fanatics
Start with the visual: this is stunning, evocative art setting the stage for what is to come.
“Mish-mash” since there are elements of science fiction with airships zooming about, futuristic high-rise buildings of various shapes and sizes, more traditional looking buildings in the foreground, nature (looking prickly, dangerous, and lovely) in the somewhat menacing, soaring rock faces and also with the alert, inquisitive animals looking on.
Of course the 8Ball shape of the grassy plain directly in front of the curious egg-shaped pod housing some kind of organic growth- mushrooms?- suggesting yet more high-rise accommodations within…
Framed by thorny, bristly forest
The visual directs the observer to widen the lens, to open the eyes and ears, to gaze, to consider, to reject easy classifications and boundaries.
So does the music, and that’s a key strength in this outstanding album from New York musician Eitan Kenner, the musical wizard behind “8Ball City”.
Eitan pays little attention to genre- he says so himself- yet uses acoustic piano, electric piano, synthesizers, and other keyboards to dance, sparkle, soothe, twist, and sizzle his compositions throughout this, his debut release.
Plus he enlists superb musicians along the way to enhance and flesh out this startling jazz-fusion vision.
There are always captivating melodies introduced, drawing in the listener- who upon closer inspection realizes point and counterpoint are also being introduced.
Guitar lines may be simple and flowing, following the main melody. Or they may swoop and soar, nearly shorting out the worried frets and harried strings.
Along with this, the skilled, funky bassists and drummers (various people are represented) lay down complex, elemental, crisp underpinnings to the compositions, which are invariably well arranged, providing twists and turns along the way.
Trumpet and saxophone add swing and sophistication, at times recalling a smoky jazz supper lounge, and others bringing a big-band feel.
Simply fun at times
For instance, there are these little snippets peppered in to the whole mix. Little minute-long fragments that tease a longer track that never comes, or that suggest an old-school video game, or, at the last, tell us we are “Done”.
Humor, ya gotta love it.
Then too, buried in the mix, yet barely there if you pay attention, are the musicians’ responses- grunts, muttered words, reactions to the track.
For me, these were the longest two pieces, “Toy Soldiers” (a tiny bit of social commentary maybe?), and “Skrunk”.
In Toy Soldiers, my reviewers pen got nearly overloaded trying to keep up with the shuffle that opens, to the martial, stentorian mood that then gives way to whimsical synths, and then syncopated hand-clapping emphasizing some fairly mind-bending rhythm patterns…you get the idea.
Skrunk had great brass accents, after a moody opening, more off-kilter musical loping, and outstanding percussion/drumming.
(And as a guitarist, I can’t resist mentioning the liquid, wicked guitar lines on “Weasel Pond”.)
“Life(Big)” takes the cake, though. We get a near-gospel opening, bluesy-jazzy acoustic piano work, lounge-jazz, melodic, sweet guitar lines, then that full, organ-led big-band triumphant passage…
Leading to “Done”.
And so it is, all moody sax and trumpet winding down undergirded by Eitan’s terrific keyboard work, instrumentalists shining…and…it ends.