Over the years, Stanton Moore has cut a place within the jazz scene playing with various fusion outfits, including playing a vital role within Robert Walter’s 20th Congress (Walter, in turn, a vital member of The Greyboy Allstars). While Moore’s fusion and funk chops are without question, his devotion to jazz is just as strong and on his 2014 disc ‘Conversations’ he shows that his approach and sense of style behind the kit is smart and tight enough to channel the best work laid down by Art Blakey and Elvin Jones. Joining Moore on this release are bassist James Singleton and pianist David Torkanowsky – both legends within the New Orleans scene – to form a very impressive trio.
Glen Drover will be best known as having been the guitarist with King Diamond and Megadeth, as well as having been a touring member of Testament. As its title suggests, Drover’s solo debut moves away from the purist metal stylings of his previous employment and into a world of metal guitar meets jazz-rock fusion. With a selection of guest performers, Drover offers five original cuts and also puts his mark on tunes by Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and the legendary Frank Zappa, often with mixed results.
The rather aggressive ‘Ground Zero’ works its main riff around some decent staccato work with a tune which is closer to jazz fusion than metal. Things soon fall apart when the lead guitar section presents itself. The main bulk of the number features furious (and often ugly) three-way showboating between Drover and his featured guests – in this case, UFO’s Vinnie Moore and sometime Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland. While guitarists may marvel at the level of metallic fretboard wankery on show from the three performers, for anyone else, it’s not always so interesting. While some guitar instrumental stuff is great, for non-musicians the best stuff is often about tunes as opposed to flashiness – and if it’s a tune you want, you won’t find it here. The second half works slightly better once the guitars settle into chorus style harmonies (overlaid by a busy piano, courtesy of Saga’s Jim Gilmour), but overall, it’s hard work. ‘Egyptian Danza’ (originally by Al Di Meola) opens with a superb, eastern sounding riff, it’s off-kilter jazz rock qualities bring out the best in Drover’s guitar style. With a slightly edgy style, Drover weaves a riff that’s jazzy in a progressive metal way, his occasional use of whammy bar adding extra interest. This would have make for an okay track alone, but the middle section is rather more interesting. With a soft, clean guitar tone, Drover plays a busier eastern sounding motif, which gets faster as it goes building excitement and a little tension. Chris Sutherland’s complex drum part alternates rock and jazz, occasionally settling for a playful shuffle. While Drover’s playing is more aggressive in places than Di Meola’s original work, the end result is great, demonstrating a clear understanding of the piece’s intended mood.
That’s more than can be said for his take on a couple of Zappa tunes. While it could be argued that it takes a very brave rock musician to take on the works of Zappa, Drover’s often metallic approach to his instrument kills both the Zappa pieces almost instantly. A minute’s worth of ‘The Purple Lagoon’ (used as an intro) takes cheeky fusion style of the original, takes one of its riffs and then hammers it into a heavy metal stupor, before Drover launches into a particularly uninspired, heavy-handed take on ‘Filthy Habits’. The dual guitar parts are ugly and the widdly-widdly (technical term) parts are even worse. It’s only by the time we get a couple of minutes in things start improving, but even then, any improvement is slight. Obviously, Zappa had a very unique style which it would’ve been wrong for Drover to attempt to copy, but one would suspect that Zappa would not necessarily approve of this jazz-rock freakout being overlaid by very metallic soloing. The keyboard laden free-form section which closes the original is reproduced here in an uninteresting manner; while Jim Gilmour is a great musician, his keyboard skills are a world away from those of George Duke. Since much of Drover’s chosen guitar tone seems far better suited to metal as opposed to jazz fusion, Jean-Luc Ponty’s ‘Don’t Let The World Pass You By’ could have easily suffered the same ham-fisted approach. However, the piece is ultimately saved by a blanket of keyboards from Gilmour and a staggering bass part courtesy of Paul Yee. Throughout most of the number, the bass lays down interesting, busy funk lines which never fall short of amazing. Even the crystal clear rhythm guitars work well within the arrangement; however, once Drover and Opeth’s Fredrik Akesson exchange showy guitar leads, it suffers the same fate as ‘Ground Zero’ in that it’s often just too much to take in. A take on Ponty’s ‘Mirage’ is preferable thanks to an easier melody, but once again, the subtleties of Ponty’s 1977 original are often lost here.
The self-penned ‘Colors of Infinity’ presents the best side of Drover’s playing. A much cleaner tone and use of vibrato lends plenty of atmospherics on a number which, in places, hints at Gary Moore’s mid-eighties work. He still has a tendency to lean towards metallic playing in places (but then, that’s his forte), but in all, the softer side presented here makes far more interesting listening. Just as you think you know how the rest of the piece will sound, Drover throws in a jazz-funk-metal refrain over the mid-section which at first throws the listener off a little; he then returns to a more standard rock arrangement where multi-tracked guitars provide some great chorus sounding work. The layers of keyboards and off-kilter rhythms driving ‘Illusions of Starlight’ are a dead ringer for Dream Theater’s softer, more accessible works; Drover appears very comfortable playing in a progressive metal style and while the sweeping notes get overtaken by showmanship on occasion, the six minute piece makes fairly smooth listening. A special mention must go to Saga’s Jim Gilmour guesting on keyboards here; he provides some great atmospheric accompaniment throughout.
In general, Drover’s metal-fusion works well on most of his own compositions; these are tunes which, naturally, are very sympathetic to his playing style. Bringing the metal aspect of his playing to numbers by Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Zappa doesn’t always seem appropriate – the heavy guitar style smothers the quirkiness which should be found within the works of two highly original composers. With that in mind, it’s hugely surprising Drover managed to capture such a good performance of Al Di Meola’s ‘Egyptian Danza’, but even so, it’s certainly one of this album’s standouts. Despite help from the aforementioned guests (plus Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis and Forbidden’s Steve Smyth), ‘Metalusion’ is a hit and miss affair, and one which may have been stronger if more of Drover’s own compositions had been included.
In 2009, Iggy’s musical direction took a U-Turn. After a couple of really great hard rock releases (2003’s ‘Skull Ring’ and 2007’s ‘The Weirdness’ – recorded with The Stooges, marking their first studio album in 34 years), comes ‘Préliminaires’, a largely soft, introspective record. Interestingly, this career shift mirrors Iggy’s change in direction at the end of the previous decade, when he followed the hard rock ‘American Caesar’ and ‘Naughty Little Doggie’ with the reflective crooning of ‘Avenue B’ – an album which gathered mixed reactions.
‘Préliminaires’ is heavily influenced by European easy listening material. Its softer nature means that it’s a record which has various things in common with ‘Avenue B’. He’s called upon the crooning style he employed for some of that album; and for those who can remain open-minded, pretty much everything about ‘Préliminaires’ works – even though on paper, the idea of Iggy returning to crooning (and sometimes in French) doesn’t sound like the best career move.
The album is bookended by two renditions of ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’, a song associated with Yves Montand and Edith Piaf, so that should give you a fair idea of how most of ‘Préliminaires’ sounds (or more importantly, feels, as it’s an album about atmosphere and tone rather than attention grabbing songs). A gentle drum loop lies beneath Ig’s deep vocal, accompanied by gentle organ work by Jon Cowherd. ‘I Want To go The Beach’ (an album high point) again features Iggy’s deepest Leonard Cohen-esque croon. This track has a really tasteful musical arrangement, with beautifully played bass work, courtesy of Hal Cragin (co-writer of most of the album’s original compositions). The New Orleans jazz styled ‘King of the Dogs’ (a track based around music written by Lil Hardin Armstrong, second wife of Louis Armstrong) provides the album with its first upbeat moment. The brass work here, played by Tim Ouimette, gives this number a really classic feel.
A duet with Françoise Hardy, ‘Je Sais que tu Sais’, has a slightly stompy quality, like an odd French cousin to ‘Nightclubbing’ (from Iggy’s 1977 album ‘The Idiot’). It’s not aggressive by any means, but retains an edginess compared to a lot of the album. If it’s edginess you want, ‘Préliminaires’, offers a couple more upbeat moments: ‘She’s a Business’ offers a similar stompy style to ‘Je Sais que tu Sais’ but fares badly due to a treated vocal. ‘Nice To Be Dead’ is the album’s only ‘traditionally Iggy’ sounding song. I’m sure on any other Iggy Pop album it’d sound great, but once you become accustomed to the softer qualities of ‘Préliminaires’, it just feels wrong somehow.
‘Machine For Loving’ highlights how great Iggy’s voice still sounds during spoken word moments. Here, he’s accompanied by effective reverbed, twangy guitar and bass, while drums are used sparingly. It sounds like a narrative from a movie scene in a desert and fits the mood of the album excellently. There are a couple of other excursions away from the album’s warm, lush sounding safety net. ‘He’s Dead, She’s Alive’ is a simple acoustic blues number finding Iggy in an unmistakable, slighty rough around the edges vocal form. The bad language here jars a little, but doesn’t really stop the flow; the electronica based ‘Party Time’ is less welcome – it really screws up the otherwise very natural approach of most of the album.
It’s similarities to ‘Avenue B’ means ‘Préliminaires’ isn’t an album everyone in Iggy’s listening audience will like. If you’re a new fan, then your money is probably best spent on a few other Iggy classics. Likewise, if you claim to be a fan, but only own ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’, then maybe this isn’t for you either. In fact, I’m not sure who Iggy has made this album for…if indeed it was made for anyone other than Iggy, just because he wanted to make it. It feels like an important album in the man’s large catalogue of releases and keeps ‘Avenue B’ in decent company.