GHS3 – Frank Gambale/Stuart Hamm/Steve Smith
Tone Center 40232
Albums are often organized like books. The first few pages are spent scene
setting; the end of the story is where the action takes place. But,
GHS3, the newest disc from longtime collaborators drummer Steve
Smith, bassist Stuart Hamm, and guitarist Frank Gambale has inverted this
structure: the album starts with the chance scene and leaves the latter
tracks for exploration.
A fine selection of largely improvised jazz-fusion cuts, GHS3 leads
off with its most manic moment. "All in Your Head" is a carefully weaved web
of Herbie Hancock, Dream Theater and George Benson; Gambale's rock-star
guitar solos are placed over Hamm and Smith's carefully laid rhythm, walking
the line between free jazz and stadium rock.
Gambale, Hamm, and Smith each play like front men, but also understand the
notion of group interplay. Like a well trained army, they divide and
conquer, helping each other out along the way. "The Great Roberto" gives
Hamm a chance to unleash a few fat bass solos and "The Challenger" will most
likely win the drummer's choice spot on the album: not only does Smith take
an extended solo, but his subtle jazz licks turn the track into one of the
disc's best dance numbers.
While each member of the trio is clearly able to pack in a few punches,
there are also able to excel in quieter contexts. On "Confuse-a-Blues,"
Gambale sets aside his electric axe and plays around with more intricate and
accented acoustic guitar notes that border on Leo Kottke's folk-blues.
"Culture-Clash" also starts with Gambale's finger picking, before Smith
accents into a fast rock and roll drum beat. As the two engage in a seven
and half minute give and take, they each speed up and slow down, culminating
in a mellow groove that shows fusion at its finest.
Like any super-group, the untitled trio bring a little of their past lives
into their current project. Smith played drums with Journey, a group which
melded arena rock with more intellectual musical elements. Hamm has lead
several combos with his lead bass and was an early proponent of funk-rock.
Gambale's fusion guitar is schooled by years of playing with post-Bop piano
legend Chick Corea. GHS3 combines these various rock and jazz
experiments to create eight enjoyable and in-depth tracks.
While the album moves around in style, certain staples tie each track
together. Gambale moves his fingers with lighting fast accuracy, and Hamm
plays his bass like a lead guitar. Far from spacey, GHS3 is still
experimental, simply because its changing time signatures break each tune
from traditional jazz or rock structures. The album's final tracks are jazz
showstoppers. "November" is an extended bass workout, and "The Challenger" a
fusion number that highlights the genre's rock side. Though the image of
three aging musicians and their instruments may evoke washed up rock star
memories and smooth jazz nightmares, GHS3 proves that one simply
can't judge a book by its cover.