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Published: 2003/12/29
by Ray Hogan

Solar Igniter – Modereko

Harmonized Records 014

It's hard to imagine the seeds of the songs on Solar Igniter arising

during Bruce Hornsby gigs. The core of the initial Modereko (follow the

first two letters of each of their last names) – drummer John Molo,

John D'Earth (who is now on special guest basis), and saxophonist Bobby Read
(along with guitarist Tim Kozba) – has deep roots with the Virginia pianist.

But the music the group plays is far from the intelligent pop of their

former employer.

The group, now augmented by bassist Dan Conway and keyboardist JT Thomas,

shows a deep affinity for… well, just about everything. The sound is

rooted in jazz-funk but takes detours into everything from bluegrass to

surf-rock. If only the songs matched their musicianship and ambition. You

know a disc isn't doing it for you when it seems much longer than its 67

minute running time.

Part of the problem here may be that Modereko is simply trying to be too

eclectic. The band seemingly wants to be everything at once. Music that

doesn't know boundaries is almost always a good thing. But in this case, it

makes for a sometime cloying listen. The group intentionally loses focus

too easily. The lilting groove of the opening "Seven Heaven" slowly begins

to penetrate when it's interrupted by an out-of-place Celtic-flavored flute

solo. "Huckleberry" is essentially a few songs in one; it begins as a

standard issue funk number before visiting – and I'm not fooling – parade,

island and industrial atmospherics in less than six minutes.

Keller Williams adds his by now unmistakable vocals to three cuts but

only manages to add to the identity crisis that's going on around him. He

does win points for bringing a respite of structure to the bluegrass-tinged

"Travel By Balloon."

The most disheartening thing about "Solar Igniter," aside from expecting

from musicians of this caliber, is that the group offers glimpses of what it

can be. "Miracles," tucked at a deep point in the disc when many listeners

may have given up, is completely cohesive, which allows the tune's inherent

soul groove to soar. Fans of Molo's work in Phil Lesh and Friends should

also delight in the moments when the group gets psychedelically chaotic. But

if the Dead repertoire taught us anything, it was that strong songs are the

core of everything. This disc simply lacks anything memorable.

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