How do I explain the unexplainable? Music was never meant to be verbalized anyway, it is meant to take you into places so deep that they can't be analyzed. Putting it into words is always inadequate but in a case like this it is downright impossible. We are talking about music that grabs you emotionally, even physically, and demands your attention. It gives you layers of sonic wonder that you can dive into and spike your imagination and feed your soul. This is the reason Pat Metheny Group has a brought in a multitude of fans who are not usually drawn to musical complexity and as the buzz spreads about Downbeat
(and how could it not?) the Tizer band is going to do the same thing. It has already started with their live gigs. Once you experience them you want to tell everyone. This album is like a live gig with exquisite production and no distracting crowd noise, and you can take with you anywhere and listen to any time you want.
Lao Tizer has released seven other albums over the last 20 years, starting with solo projects he recorded himself when he was still a teenager. Over the years the albums evolved into more of a band sound, first with guitarist Jeff Kollman coming on board then he hooked up with Chieli Minucci and began adding more musicians to the lineup. This album marks the complete evolution from Lao Tizer the solo artist to the band he hangs his name on. It is a fluid entity, they perform in multiple configurations from a trio to the eight piece lineup featured on the album. The band categorizes itself as world fusion and the lineup reflects that with Tizer and Minucci (who as a founding member of Special EFX broke a lot of ground in bringing world rhythms to contemporary jazz music), violinist Karen Briggs (remember her from the Yanni video that played on PBS a zillion times? She was wonderful then but has truly come into her own in this setting), guitarist and co-producer Jeff Kollman, UK bassist Rufus Philpot from Down To The Bone, multi-instrumentalist Steve Nieves (who tours with Kenny Loggins and is part of the excellent and underrated cjazz band Jango), and Cuban drummer Raul Pineda. These are musicians whose skills are off the scale and he gives them a lot of space to play both as co-writers and soloists, and in the interactive process of creating the music.
And what music it is! These are not songs that clock in at under four minutes and are neatly compacted from verse to chorus to bridge and back to verse and out. They are also not the kind of forays into improvisation and eclecticism that leave the casual listener in the dust. All of these songs are anchored by melody and texture, the melodic hooks draw you in and the players spin magic around them. The jamming is freewheeling and disciplined at the same time. There are passages where two or three instrumentalists will take you for a ride – percussion and bass, sax and piano, “dual guitars (I'm in heaven!), electric and electrifying violin work - all kinds of permutations. The textures shift from subtle to brash and cover all the space in between. There are songs that are meditative and spacious, like “Essence,” “Coming of Age,” and “The Next Step,” jazz-rock fusion burners like the opener, “Acid Rain,” “The Dreamcatcher” and “Chasing the Sunset” which segues between anthemic power and elegant nuance so smoothly you almost aren't conscious of all the places it is taking you. A lot of these songs do that. They start out as one thing, turn into something else, then turn into something else. What makes them so accessible is that they always return to a specific melody – one that is so intriguing and seemingly familiar that it keeps you enchanted for the whole journey. There are lots of international rhythms and shadings, from Latin to Middle Eastern and into new territories they have invented. There are loose funky grooves like the head-bobbing title track which, I have to say, reminds me of some of Jeff Beck's coolest instrumentals. If you experienced the first wave of fusion you will hear tastes of it here – searing guitars and soaring violin in songs that build in intensity like Mahavishnu, shimmering textures, lyrical piano and guitar interplay a la Pat Metheny Group, percussive complexity and darker harmonics reminiscent of Weather Report. This is not a throwback or a reflection though, Tizer's music is completely original and contemporary. There is more going on in any one song here than there is in most entire albums and new things will capture your ears every time you hear any of these 12 songs.
This is music that cannot be pinned down with words. You can listen to clips on Tizer's website but clips don't do justice to these songs that clock in at up to nine minutes long. The last time I saw this band live I got goosebumps, literally. A girl who had to be in her teens moved up front and sat down next to me. Two surfer guys planted themselves beside us, then a couple with their dog was drawn to the stage. We listened. We looked at each other and smiled. Buy this album and share the experience, then share it with someone else. Enjoy and share. Those are the best words I can think of as I put this album on again, and again and again.