Serial collaborator, drummer and keyboard player Gary Husband has now joined together with virtuoso guitarist Alf Terje Hana as The Trackers and invited some stellar guests to play bass guitar on the new album Vaudeville 8:45. What they have created is a collection of instrumental tracks that are fresh, superbly crafted and a rewarding listen.
Gary Husband’s musical history would be ideal for Pete Frame to represent with one of his famous extended family trees. He has accompanied a varied host of top musicians over the last 40 years and garnered high praise from the likes of Bill Bruford and Gavin Harrison. This record is the first product of a new partnership with Alf, a Norwegian, whose playing style has strong influences from the late sixties, showcased through the extensive catalogue of his band Athana.
This is a project that shouts out its pedigree loudly and brashly. Gary is quoted as saying “when Allan Holdsworth passed, I lost a very close and special long-term musical relationship immensely central to my ongoing development and creativity as a drummer. To ease the pain of that loss and the sheer void it brought about, I knew I had to start something new – build myself a new way to continue.” For me, it’s clear that musically the album sits very much in the space where Bruford-style jazz fusion meets a heavier UK-style rock fusion, with Mr. Holdsworth obviously being the common factor in those two bands.
The project has been completed with the help of seven different bass players, cast by Gary to add the extra ingredient for each particular track. Do the ends justify the means? That is a matter of opinion, of course. Apart from Jimmy Johnson and Øyvind Grong, who play on two, each of the guest bass players play on one track only and so it’s ambitious to think that any power trio can meld itself into a tight unit in such a short space of time, let alone seven of them.
The album kicks off with three Alf Terje Hana compositions. All are distinct but recognisably from the same stable. Hearing the differing bass styles lined up like this is of real interest and the way that the drums combine as the nature of each rhythm section develops is also fascinating. Above it the guitar tones are varied, and melodic lines are dropped in and out as the three players each play to their strengths whilst also always managing to complement each other.
Track one, Two Foxes, has punchy guitar lines over the top of heavy bass rhythms (from Etienne MBappé) and is a satisfying opener. Things are then pared back for The Drowning, becoming more restrained as the bass (Jimmy Johnson) now meanders dextrously alongside the other parts. Nisco is the most accessible of these openers, the funk of the rhythm section (Øyvind Grong) overlaid with engaging guitar and synth patterns.
Next are a couple of tracks credited to Gary Husband. The Middle Distance brings the drums more into the spotlight, and we move further into jazz fusion territory, with Jimmy Haslip slipping expertly into the bass role. Wolf Moon is an intriguing piece (featuring Kevin Scott on bass), loosely split into three parts it ends with a Hammond-esque organ part. The sort of five-minute sketch that could easily become the basis for a prog epic?
Alf returns with the next track, Wide Awake Running. It starts with a peaceful, delicate intro before the unmistakeable sound of Mark King on bass joins in and the trio begin another rhythmic, driving piece. The guitar tone is much cleaner here and the only downside is that the track winds down and ends too soon.
Deep Stepping is, for me, the only skippable track, the discordant jazz fusion elements becoming a bit overwhelming for my taste. Garden of Bliss gets us back on track with a calming intro featuring a range of synth effects and some light touch cymbal work before Alf and Øyvind Grong move things up a gear. It soon returns to the themes of the first part, the extended synth parts providing an interesting interlude from the heavier guitar sounds that have featured earlier.
The final track is surely the highlight of the album. Based on themes created by George Russell, Living Time is as powerful a statement as I have come across from any power trio. The instrumentation is once again beautifully balanced with the three elements, including Guy Pratt this time, always complementary. After the guitars have laid out the theme in the introduction, Gary Husband is particularly prominent on this track. A fitting finale in many ways.
All told, this is an album packed with intrigue and it delivers on many levels.
01. Two Foxes (4:48)
02. The Drowning (3:24)
03. Nisco (4:45)
04. The Middle Distance (7:05)
05. Wolf Moon (5:14)
06. Wide Awake Running (4:27)
07. Deep Stepping (2:56)
08. Garden Of Bliss (5:43)
09. Living Time (6:30)
Total Time – 44:52
Gary Husband – Drums, Organ, Electric Piano
Alf Terje Hana – Guitars, Octave Guitar, Synth, Programming
Etienne MBappé – Bass Guitar
Jimmy Johnson – Bass Guitar
Øyvind Grong – Bass Guitar
Jimmy Haslip – Bass Guitar
Kevin Scott – Bass Guitar
Mark King – Bass Guitar
Guy Pratt – Bass Guitar
Record Label: Abstract Logix Records
Country of Origin: U.K. / Norway
Date of Release: 11th March 2022