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Published: 2012/05/30
by Brian Robbins

Spectrum Road
Spectrum Road

Palmetto Records

Dig this: Jack Bruce, John Medeski, Vernon Reid, and Cindy Blackman Santana.

In a band together.

Recording an album.

That information alone might be enough for some of you to want to nail a copy of Spectrum Road’s self-titled debut, but an album shouldn’t get a free ride based solely on its principals’ reputations, right? Right.

That is not an issue here, however: the sum of these parts is every bit as good as you might hope it would be. A collaboration between four powerhouse virtuosos, the seed for Spectrum Road was planted a decade or so ago when Reid put in some road time as the guitarist in Jack Bruce’s Cuicoland Express. A mutual appreciation for the work of the great jazz drummer Tony Williams led to thoughts of forming a new ensemble with Cindy Blackman Santana behind the kit; and when John Medeski’s keyboards were added to the equation, the sound was complete. The quartet went into the studio for five days in February of 2011; the result is their 10-track self-titled debut.

Spectrum Road launches with “Vuelta Abajo” – a crazy, whirlwind carnival ride of sound driven by Cindy Blackman Santana’s wildly-tumbling drums (and punctuated by fat slabs of Medeski’s keys). Reid takes off on a fierce, spiraling run while Bruce’s bass roars like it’s trying to break free of a tar pit. At the 3:30 mark the drums, bass, and guitar pump the brakes hard, leaving Medeski with two fistfuls of monster chords. The other three bang their fists hard against Medeski’s wall of sound – then pause … again – then pause … again – then pause. The keys eventually relent, with all hands
joining for a full-band thrash to take the song home. The power of the quartet is obvious – but at the same time, their control over it is just as impressive. These are masters at work.

Jack Bruce contributes vocals to three tunes on Spectrum Road – and the man still delivers with the same grace and authority that the world first heard on Fresh Cream 46 years ago. His work on “There Comes A Time” is cool jazzbo poetry (listen to the scary/beautiful drums), while “An t-Eilan Muileach”’s Scottish roots are blurred pleasantly by the Afro-rhythms pulsing beneath Bruce’s vocal.

You can’t help but be drawn to Cindy Blackman Santana’s drum work on cut after cut. Medeski, Bruce, and Reid may be the pages that tell the story of “Where”, for instance – but the drums are the binding. (The song’s final five minutes – a full-band explosion with its head held high – is absolutely majestic.) It’s the drums and bass that set the stage for “Blues For Tillmon” – a total 2:00 AM coolness straight off a Blue Note album cover. (Right down to Medeski’s keys imitating a Martian sax.) And it’s Blackman Santana propelling “Allah Be Praised” from joyous blues romp to elastic-boned jam and back.

Egos? None. Talent? Oh, man … this was meant to be.

Let’s hope that the Spectrum Road is a long one.

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