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Prog Rock: Terry Bozzio & Billy Sheehan, Steve Morse, Niacin, Sotos

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TERRY BOZZIO & BILLY SHEEHAN: Nine Short Films (CD on Magna Carta Records)

This CD from 2002 features 59 minutes of inventive modern rock by renowned percussionist Bozzio (Missing Persons, Frank Zappa) and supremely eminent bassist Sheehan (Niacin, Explorers Club).

It begins explosively, with a burst of crashing percussion that ushers the listener into a realm of crisp music embroidered with intricate rhythms, squealing guitars (some of which are generated by synthesizers), thundering basslines, and tersely articulated vocals.

Head-spinning velocity is a keynote factor in this music. Rapid percussions, squeezing out tempos so swiftly that beats become superimposed on each other, produce dazzling rhythms that are quite exhausting. Lightning-fingered basslines mimic this hell-bent acceleration, belting out gut-line pulsations which flow into a progression of molten liquidity. These bass rumbles function as a sort of lead instrument for the songs, enunciating riffs that resound with subterranean fury, blazing with enough vitality to almost occlude the instances of lead guitar. Keyboards act as a solvent for all this fervent passion, creating a sweeping medium for the other thrashing instruments.

The hoarsely whispered vocals provide these tunes with characteristic identity, outlining stories that render each track akin to cinematic entertainment. The complex and intense compositions of the melodies provide these plotlines with fierce sentiments and profound intonation.

Of the ten tracks on the "Nine Short Films" CD, eight of them feature lyrical vocals, leaving only a pair of tunes to stand on instrumental ground.

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STEVE MORSE BAND: Split Decision ( CD on Magna Carta Records)

This 2002 release delivers 53 minutes of instrumental power rock.

The Steve Morse Band is: (naturally) Steve Morse on guitar, Dave LaRue on bass, and Van Romaine on drums. Morse, who formed the Dixie Dregs years ago, has worked with Kansas and Deep Purple.

Expect grinding guitar licks, searing with their passion and musical ecstasy. Blinding speed is applied by masterful fingers that know exactly what note best follows the last one. The audience is kept breathless as no respite is given. The guitar soars and dives and frolics, relentless in its delivery and stratospheric in its intent.

The bass rumbled with nimble-fingered dedication, establishing a geological foundation that refuses to crack or give under the weight of the furious melodies. The bass and guitar frequently go head-to-head, dueling for supremacy with blazing chops. This counterpart combat fills the songs with dazzling chords.

The drums are urgent and commanding, defining complex rhythms that are forever changing, growing more interesting and exhausting.

The songs on this CD are all compact (the longest being five and a half minutes), delivering their fervent tuneage quickly and hard. Most of the melodies are gritty, driving right for the gut as they sneakily stimulate the forebrain. There are a few tracks that explore more stately sentiments, serious and majestic compositions that employ some acoustic elements in tandem with the retrained electronic guitar and bass.

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NIACIN: Time Crunch (CD on Magna Carta Records)

This 56 minute CD from 2002 offers a tasty dose of progressive fusion.

Niacin is: Billy Sheehan (from Mr. Big and Explorers Club) on bass, John Novello (who's played with George Clinton and Stanley Clarke) on Hammond B3, piano and synthesizers, and Dennis Chambers (who's played with Chick Corea and Andy Summers) on drums.

Be prepared for a blinding compression of rock and jazz, producing a frantic sound that drives with ceaseless resolve as it delves into the brain to mesmerize with intense complexity. The pace is high velocity, giving no breathing room between magical chords. The overall effect of this tuneage is like a hard punch to the stomach, minus the pain but rich with shock.

Each instrument can be considered the frontman for this music. The keyboards are omnipresent, belting out riffs that slide and swoop with demonstrative power. The bass growls faster than humanly possible, drenching the air with feverish vibrations that threaten to rattle the audience's teeth from their mouths. The drums pound with an explosive frenzy that leaves few gaps between each emphatic beat.

This release features a pair of cover songs: a version of King Crimson's groundbreaking tune "Red" that is literally more menacing than the original, and a passionately sultry rendition of Jan Hammer's "Blue Wind".

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SOTOS: Platypus (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This 2002 follow-up CD to this French band's acclaimed debut release offers 69 minutes of intense progrock steeped in a fusion of rock, free jazz, classical, Eastern European folk, and zeuhl (the sound pioneered by Magma and Univers Zero).

Sotos is: Nicolas Cazaux on violin, Yan Hazera on guitar and metallophone, Nadia Leclerc on cello, Bruno Camiade on bass, and Michael Hazera on drums and percussion. "Platypus" was produced by ReR recording artist Bob Drake. Featured on this release are two longform songs.

The CD starts out with a wild mixture of sampled sheep screams that is literally disturbing, setting the tone for the frantic instrumental weirdness to follow. Near oppressive percussions thunder from every direction. Blazing guitars squeal out lead riffs that border on the dark side of tormented. Feverish violin wailings struggle to be heard in the melodic cacophony. Basslines alternate from metronomic to frenetic insanity, underpinning the music with quasi-geological rumblings. The cello lends a spiritual connection between the bass and violin, stretching acoustical sounds with demented passion. The interplay of these instruments is astounding, achieving a momentous resonance that defies analysis with its enormity.

Intellectual complexity dominates these tension-driven compositions. Dazzling outbursts of intensity are framed by passages of more intimate delicacy which afford the audience a chance to release that awestruck breath. Glimpsed through the maelstrom of frenzied sound, this music is quite sinuous, fusing glorious riffs with intricate beats to produce epic epiphanies of sophisticated rapture.

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