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Tunnels - 2005 - "Art of Living Dangerously"

(76 min, Buckyball)

TRACK LIST:                             
1.  Tunnels 9:48 
2.  Frank's Beard 7:33 
3.  Barrio 7:57 
4.  Flavor 6:36 
5.  Prisoners of the Knitting Factory Hallway 6:06 
6.  The Syzygy Incident 9:54 
7.  Wall to Wall Sunshine 4:48 
8.  Lilly's Dolphin 7:42 
9.  Bad American Dream the 43rd 7:50 
10. Inseminator 8:08 

All tracks: by Wagnon & Jones, except 2: Wagnon/Katz, 
7: Wagnon/Katz/Goodsall. Produced by Wagnon.


Marc Wagnon - midi-vibes
Percy Jones - bass
Frank Katz - drums
John Goodsall - guitar 
Van Manakas - guitar
Julien Feltin - guitar
Mark Feldman - violin
Lance Carter - drums

Prolusion. TUNNELS was formed in New York in 1993 and was originally a quartet featuring vibraphonist Mark Wagnon, bassist Percy Jones, drummer Frank Katz and guitarist Van Manakas. After Van left back in 2000, the outfit gathered together all four of the current members of the famous Jazz-Fusion outfit Brand X, though the newcomer, guitarist John Goodsall, appears only as a guest musician, with a limited participation. (The point is that unlike the other core Brand X members, John hasn't moved from England to the USA.) The discography of Tunnels comprises four releases: "Tunnels", "Solid Rock", "Progressivity" and "The Art of Living Dangerously", the latter being their first live album. Certainly, this project can be considered an alternative version of Brand X. The related reviews can be found and read by clicking here.

Analysis. One of the ten works present, Flavor, is a new composition and is in some ways the most atypical track here. This is a kind of Percy Jones's benefit performance, with the composed and improvised solos of bass being always at the fore (at times all alone), while the other instruments involved, drums and midi-vibes, play exclusively a supporting role. Generally, the bass remains one of the most important soloing forces throughout the album, which is partly explained by the relatively little contribution to the material from the guitar players. The other tracks are representatives of each of the three studio releases by Tunnels. Most of the renderings are longer than the originals, and they aren't blind copies of them either, but only one of them, Barrio, indicates a really notable departure from the style of its studio counterpart. The music is very lush and is a combination of improvisational and symphonic harmonies, at times bordering on Classical music. The events develop as the alternation of intense and more atmospheric arrangements, the latter being rather dark and anxious, with a distinct mysterious sense and a certain dose of resemblance to Mars - the Bringer of War by English classical composer Gustav Holst. Although without a classical sense, Frank's Beard is also a bag of mixed, symphonic and improvisational textures, notable for the other (said) distinctive features by which its follow-up is characterized. As in the original version, the middle of the track finds Frank Katz doing an intricate solo on drums. The other seven compositions consist mainly of intense up-tempo arrangements done in the best traditions of classic Jazz-Fusion and such of the genre's brightest representatives as still the same Brand X and - in the case the violin is the essential part of the show (as is on Wall to Wall Sunshine and Lilly's Dolphin) - the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Still, Mark Wagnon widely uses the possibilities of his midi-vibes, providing the sounds of various wind instruments and keyboards (vintage Hammond, Moog and Rhodes included), and also those of acoustic vibraphone and harpsichord. Nevertheless, unlike the band's studio albums, and particularly their most compelling and saturated, "Solid Rock", this material somewhat lacks the guitar sound, as only three compositions here: Bad American Dream the 43rd, Prisoners of the Knitting Factory Hallway and Wall to Wall Sunshine, have the guitar as one of the primary soloing instruments.

Conclusion. Over the course of its existence, Tunnels have done tens, if not hundreds, of onstage shows, so I slightly regret that this album is for the most part compiled of the tracks that present the band performing in its current, trio format. No, I don't find this factor a serious drawback, because even as a trio, this group of brilliant musicians is able to work wonders while playing live, which is firmly documented on "The Art of Living Dangerously". All in all, this CD is an essential addition to the band's discography and is an essential listen too.

VM: Agst 2, 2005

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