I reviewed Dirty & Beautiful Volume 1 early last year, concluding :
There is no fluff here – perhaps that is why this is ‘volume 1?, as the next volume is due in 2011 sometime. And while I might have appreciated getting more time to get to know each grouping on the record, this is Husband’s project, and if the goal was to show how vital and vibrant and versatile fusion can be in 2010 … and if that wasn’t the goal he should review the original goal! Because this record takes some of the great names in fusion, pulls them together and shows that the breadth of creativity and quality of music in the genre is perhaps greater than at any time in the last thirty years!
While he didn’t hit the 2011 goal, Gary Husband is back with Dirty & Beautiful Volume 2. The new edition promised more of the same – great musicians, great songs, and a fresh look at fusion music in 2012. Let’s take a listen!
Summary: Picture the challenge: making a recording that at once evokes the golden age of fusion and looks forward; that brings together a ‘who’s who’ of the fusion world yet has a cohesive feel; that has virtuoso performances without feeling like a celebrity blowing jam session. It is a rare feat, and one that Gary Husband has now pulled again with Dirty & Beautiful Volume 2.
The album starts strong with a laid-back funky bass figure on ‘If The Animals Had Guns Too’ by Jimmy Johnson, leading into percussive guitar stabs that send the song on its way into a solid fusion theme that sets the tone by looking backward and forward all at once. Starting right away with this track we are reminded that Gary Husband is equally adept as a drummer and keyboard player, and throughout the recording we are treated to amazing displays of creativity on both instruments.
Next up is Mike Stern on ‘Rolling Sevens’. Stern is one of those immediately recognizable players with a very distinct style. While he uses many of the same structures as when I saw him live 30 years ago with Miles and a couple of years later with Jaco, I like the ‘clean and sober’ Stern much better, and this song really cooks.
The first two songs – along with three later pieces (Fuguie, Sulley, and England Green) – are Husband compositions. But he generously shares composing space with others – the next few songs come from others, starting with ‘New Blues, Old Bruise’, a John McLaughlin piece originally featured on his 2006 album ‘Industrial Zen’ and later played with the ‘Five Peace Band’ also featuring Chick Corea. Here Sean Freeman does an updated Michael Brecker-style solo alongside some heavy mood-setting synth pads and great solo work from Husband. Just over half-way through the song Husband takes over – driving drums and electric piano complement a growling synth solo that takes the song to an entirely different level.
‘East River Jam’ is a fun and funky jam co-written by Husband and Wayne Krantz that allows everyone to just have fun and stretch out. It is over too quickly but leaves an indelible impression.
And then Alan Holdsworth joins the party … having one of the most distinctive chordal and melodic styles on guitar, Holdsworth brings an updated version of his 1968 composition ‘Fred’ for the group including Jan Hammer taking a turn on the keys as Husband focuses on drums, bringing the song in with a ‘cymbal lead-in’ that reminds us of his multi-instrumental ways. The song is fairly simple, but is absolutely gorgeous owing almost entirely to Holdsworth’s chordal brilliance and the delicate support of all players. The main unit – Holdsworth, Husband and Jimmy Johnson – already are a working trio, and with Hammer added to the mix the results are amazing.
Jan Hammer is one of the key figures of fusion keyboard and a key figure for Husband. Here we get a great updated read of the song ‘Rain’, originally written by Hammer for the Miami Vice TV show (surely you remember that show!). Husband stretches out and pays homage to Hammer throughout, delivering me back to the mid-80’s in what largely amounts to a call and response between Husband and guitarist Neil Taylor.
‘Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Brothers’ is a composition by young guitarist Alex Machanek that ebbs and flows and allows plenty of space for Husband and Machacek to stretch out and improvise together. The result is a traditional fusion song at times, and modern jazz at others, but interesting throughout.
‘Fuguie’ is the lone solo-keyboard piece by Husband, but as is true throughout the overdubs and layering allow his to produce a dense and engaging compositional space. Although the song is compositionally free and flowing it has a strong sense of time and space and at once feels funky and whimsical before fading out as gently as it entered.
While McLaughlin was absent during his own composition, he has a tour de force on the Husband composition ‘Sulley’. The intro has an Indian feel before Mark King jumps in with a solid funk line to get things moving. Throughout the 10-minute length there are tempo shifts, signature changes, interludes and more … but throughout it is driving and funky and extremely tight – and McLaughlin doesn’t disappoint, though I give more credit to King and Husband for keeping it from ever getting mired down and feeling like an indulgent 70’s fusion jam.
The short vignette ‘England Green’, Husband is joined by Jimmy Herring, best known for his jam-band stylings with groups such as The Dead. The song is pretty and the arrangement is tight, with organ and guitar complementing each other beautifully. I am reminded of something that Jeff Beck might have recorded, particularly with Herrings’ use of pitch bend and vibrato runs. It is a beautiful song that is just long enough to allow Herring and Husband to fully explore the theme but provides a respite after the 10-minute exploration of ‘Sulley’.
Someday we’ll get the entire story from this group on Miles Davis’ ‘Yesternow’. On Volume 1 Robin Trower laid down some amazing guitar work on an ‘interlude’ take, and now he returns for the ‘Epilogue’. As always, his Hendrix-fueled stylings are thrilling, and on this song from ‘Jack Johnson’ they fit extremely well. Each time we get the feeling we are hearing a snip for an hour-long session … and perhaps we are.
As Trower fades out, we are left with Husband recreating the instrospective Epilogue from the song. Where originally Miles Played, now it is all Husband taking on the multiple roles and beautifully recreating the quiet yet moody and impactful minute-long ending section. It is an amazingly reflective way to end the album, and is perfect as it puts your mind in a place to look back through the entire experience.
I was left with two thoughts about the recording: how well it all works, and how coherent it is despite having a large cast of characters. Projects with so many instrumentalists tend to get lost amongst the competing voices, but not here: what comes through here is the beautiful musical ideas of Gary Husband, fully supported and assisted by a group of friends who each has much to say, but never put their own voices above the aims of the project. To me that marks this as an amazing success – even moreso when you consider that there are nearly two hours of music across both volumes.
Choice Track (and why): Fred 2011 – the interplay between the working Allan Holdsworth trio and Jan Hammer brings together swing, beauty, ferocity, virtuosity, and interplay at an incredibly high level. For me it exemplifies what I found throughout the recording – great musicians playing without ego, giving their all to the greater aim of a high quality set of music.
You Might Love This If: If you like instrumental rock, jazz-fusion, or just love hearing amazing musicians creating great music, you are sure to love this!
Where to Buy:
Here is a video of Gary Husband discussing the experience of creating this recording: