Saturday, June 18, 2011

Alex Machacek '24 Tales' CD Review

Souvik Dutta over at fusion label Abstract Logix contacted me about doing a review for Alex Machacek's latest CD 24 Tales.

Alex Machacek 24 Tales
So here we go, the first CD review at The Guitar Column!

24 Tales is based on an interesting premise. All tracks were composed by Machacek around a one-take solo that drummer extraodinaire Marco Minnemann had previously laid down in the studio.

Recording without a click track, Minnemann's solo is chock-full of rhythmic twists and turns, and shifting time-signatures. Taking Minnemann's 51-minute solo, Machacek divided it into 24 mini-compositions that segue into one another.

24 Tales proves that Machacek is not just another fusion guitar virtuoso but also a composer of incredible imagination and amazing compositional chops as he navigates his writing around a virtual minefield of Minnemann's ever-changing rhythms.

The first track On Your Marks opens with an ostinato figure played on acoustic and overdriven guitars. After stating a very angular overdriven melody, Machacek launches into an ensemble section that reminds me of some of Return To Forever's finest moments. The highly compressed clean multi-finger tapped section of this piece is unique unto itself. Machacek's tone on the distorted sections is a little grainy with a slight digital 'fizz' -- no doubt due in part to amp simulation -- but it provides a nice crunchy texture nonetheless. On Your Marks indeed -- there are some incredible alternate picked sections that would have made a 20-something-year-old Al DiMeola sweat!

Sit Back And Chillax is a laid-back piece with acoustic slide guitar against a backdrop of fretless bass, synth pads and vocals by Machacek's wife Sumitra, a singer and artist in her own right. There are even some sections where Machacek sounds like he is about to venture into Indian slide guitar territory while the Chick Corea-inspired piano part here makes me wonder if Alex is as accomplished at keyboards as he is at guitar!

Anamika features a beautiful clean electric guitar before launching into a soaring overdriven legato melody -- an homage to fusion great Allan Holdsworth no doubt.  Pros And Cons of Depression yields a wrenching but again very brief solo while Tranquillo is right out of one of the pages of a young and hungry Return to Forever, replete with unison acoustic guitar and piano passages.

If there is one gripe I have about this album it would be that Machacek's solos are consistently too short -- just it seems as he is about to develop a solo idea to fruition, another ensemble section begins. Although this could also be due to the nature of the pre-recorded-drums format of this album. Or maybe, as a guitar fan, I just wanted to hear a great player like Machacek stretch out a bit more.

The longest track at 4:37 (most of the tracks on 24 Tales average out at under 2 minutes each), Sweet Torture features intricately picked acoustic guitar followed by a section of heavy-duty industrial guitar tones.  Somehow, in Machacek's compositional universe, it all makes sense!

Feel Me is a funky rock piece interjected with ensemble sections on acoustic guitar and another Holdsworth-inspired legato guitar solo. This solo I think has the best lead tone on the entire album and Machacek executes his lines flawlessly.

Guesting on trombone on three tracks is Martin Ptak. At The Club features a couple of very elegant and hip trombone solos; I really dig his tone and phrasing and Ptak adds a movie score texture with his trombone overdubs on See You There.

Marco Minnemann gives us an impromptu lesson in odd time by counting out the shifting rhythms on Minnemaus In Da House, while Sexy sees Machacek delivering his most gorgeous solo, in my opinion, on 24 Tales.

There are so many instrumental layers to this album. Distorted lead tones and acoustic guitars not only co-exist but complement each other seamlessly in ways that I never before imagined.  And I had to remind myself over and over again that the instrumental parts were composed and layered after the fact -- that's how tightly Machacek manages to beautifully interlace his guitar, bass and keyboard parts with Minnemann's incredible improvisation!

John McLaughlin has said that "Machacek's music starts where other music ends...". 24 Tales more than lives up to that statement.

24 Tales is available from Abstract Logix.

Alex's website is at http://www.alexmachacek.com/

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