Any band that'll cover King Crimson, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Frank Zappa (and Gabriel has worked with Page & Plant, Ray Charles, and others) has my undivided attention—not that that's occurring here but this collective of virtuosi has indeed done so, possessing the chops, intelligence, and breadth to embrace all that while setting down here a CD of top-flight jazz fusion along the lines of the Dixie Dregs, Tribal Tech, Spyro Gyra, and the Crusaders…with a little hot jazz a la Django and Grapelli along the way.
Much of Not Radio Material is highly romantic in the lush amorous sense but also Romantic in the classical sense, packed in with tunes standing well with John Klemmer's landmark Barefoot Ballet. Credit Michael Levin's sax and Gabriel's violin for much of that, but don't count out Kevin O'Connell's piano, which treads a line between Brubeck, Evans, and Sample. Gabriel is a big fan of Jean-Luc Ponty, and it shows in his flawless tone and pacing. And, oh man, those background strings come in at exactly the right time! Listen to There Is No Sun Today and see what I mean.
The prog-fusion element jumps in on songs like Mobile, a serial chase-n-variations cut bringing Ponty's great bands back, the ones with Holdsworth, Stuermer, Lievano, and Glaser…with Gabriel taking their parts and Ponty's. Blue 7 be-bops O'Connell back in, but I caution the listener to pay careful attention to Inderjeet Sidhu's drums here and throughout the CD, as they're on an ECM / DeJohnette / Gurtu level, extraordinarily thoughtful, not restricted to rhythm sectioning by any means but fully in the musical conversation. Once you lock into them, you'll more strongly catch Maurice Houston's perambulating bass, a cat definitely from the old jazz school and too often undermixed in the cuts (the only small complaint I have here—well, that and the fact that there's not enough of Stevie Doyle's righteous guitar and Sarah Alexander's cello either).
A mystery: in Nose Bleed, it at first appears that Doyle and Gabriel are engaging in a guitar-violin trade-off a la the old Bolin-Hammer duels, where it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins, but a closer listen makes me wonder. It might be just Gabriel alone, messin' with the envelope characteristics of his instrument. Hotter than hell, in either case. Not Radio Material, in whole, is almost all-instrumental with a few vocal cuts, an hour long, and pure pleasure in a very refined sense. It cuts a wide channel through a number of genres and will find high favor among those lamenting that this particular type of fusion is slowly falling by the wayside, too sophisticated for New Age / The Wave type venues and too romantic for the hot-chops-n-nothin-but crew. For the rest of us, it works beautifully.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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