DEREK SHERINIAN Oceana Music Theories MTR348 (2011)
And so to 'Oceana', keyboard player Derek Sherinian's seventh solo album and arguably his most significant release. Berklee graduate Derek has an impressive musical pedigree working with the likes of Dream Theater, Alice Cooper and Malmsteen before becoming a core member of rock's current hottest property Black County Communion and as such he's doubtless hoping for some reflected glory.
In fact his stellar fusion line-up of high profile players has a collective pedigree that probably outshines that of BCC, but nevertheless 'Oceana' is a jazz rock fusion departure that needs selling. It's an album pregnant with tricky time signatures, fractured proggy themes and is sprinkled with hard rock, funk and even an occasional bluesy edge that give it a mid 70's era feel, when Chic Corea, Jan Hammer, Billy Cobham etc held sway and Jeff Beck had just discovered a new musical world of fusion.
And while 'Oceana' easily fits into the crossover jazz/rock fusion label albeit with an occasionally heavy undertow, it's a work that is a step up for Derek Sherinian both as a song writer and also a band leader who is unafraid to surreptitiously slip from front line player to accompanist.
There's a feeling of mutual musical respect and effortless band interplay that injects this album with its soul. Sure there are moments of frenetic soloing as Tony MacAlpine and Sherinian revisit their Planet X connection on the opening brace of tracks, of which the tightly wrapped 'Five Elements' finds Derek switching from organ to jazzy piano before MacAlpine adds some lighting runs and finishes with an exercise in dazzling technique.
But there are plenty of intense musical moments when feel and inspiration match the band's dazzling chops; Needless to say Simon Phillips underpins the number with impeccable drumming on a track that has lovely layered feel as both keyboard and guitar weave in and out of their solos.
But the strength of this album lies in its adventurous approach as evidenced by the heavier keyboard led 'Mercury' on which MacAlpine shreds and Sherinian adds a thematic keyboard motif. In many respects the following 'Mulholland' acts as a signature track for the album as the marvellous interplay between Lukather and Sherinian sounds like a criminally overlooked outtake from the Billy Cobham/Jam Hammer 'Spectrum' sessions, with echoes of Jeff Beck's 'Wired'. This is particularly so on the opening theme of 'El Camino Diablo' and the keyboard break on 'Seven Sins'.
The album as a whole is anchored by drummer Simon Phillips, who aside from driving the album forward with some muscular stick work, co-wrote seven of the songs and provides the sharp mix that captures the band's visceral precision and inspired interplay.
Derek Sherinian's guests include a familiar list of fusioneers from MacAlpine, fellow Billy Idol band member Steve Stevens, Tony Franklin, and Jimmy Johnson to Joe Bonamassa and Doug Aldrich, as Derek steps out from his busy sideman role to stamp his personality on a project that might well open some musical doors to existing rock fans. And while on balance 'Oceana' has the feel of a retro fusion project played by contemporary session players, there's enough fire, inspiration and song writing substance to suggest Derek will be busy enough with his own solo career.
Lukather contributes some sleazy languid guitar lines to complements Derek's melodic sweeps on 'Euphoria' on a track that beautifully evokes the title before it heads for a delicate swaying slow fade out.
And perhaps predictably Joe Bonammasa's contribution on 'I Heard That' is on a more relaxed bluesy groove, a welcome juxtaposition to the inspired but frenetic sparring and up tempo double lines of 'El Camino Diablo'. 'I Heard That' is another Beck influenced effort on which JB conjures an interesting edgy tone as Derek anchors the song with a subtle two note accompaniment. If BCC reinvented hard rock and Bonamassa recycled the Brit invasion blues, then Derek Sherinian's new project gives jazz rock fusion a reprise in the public eye.
He expands his keyboard range on 'Seven Sins', shifting from banks of synths to a Moog sounding effect and the album closes with the title track and one of the best cuts of them all. The band hang back enough and find the space to construct a slow building finale on which guitarist Steve Stevens cuts through with a beautifully judged solo on a climactic finish.
As a piece of jazz /rock/fusion 'Oceana' doesn't offer too many surprises. But it's a superbly played coherent piece of work that incorporates a wide spectrum of players into nine Sherinian co-writes that suggest he's in the vanguard of jazz rock fusion players, no mean achievement when you're playing with guys of this calibre.