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TRACK LIST: 1. B7 4:17 2. Strut #1 4:16 3. Mosaico 5:26 4. Zihua 5:23 5. New Jimah 6:00 6. Vertical Drop 4:47 7. La Bete 4:37 8. Blue Hands 5:39 9. Dance #1 4:33 10. Flock Together 4:48 11. Bubblehead 5:34 LINEUP: Jimmy Robinson - guitars Fran Comiskey - keyboards Mark Whitaker - drums Paul Clement - bass
Prolusion. US band WOODENHEAD has been around in one shape or another ever since 1975, and for the last few decades they have solidified into a stable quartet. During their 40 odd years as an active band they have released five studio albums and three live albums if the information I have found is correct. "Live at Chickie Wah Wah" is their most recent production, and was self released in the spring of 2019.
Analysis. Woodenhead is one of those band that have managed to stay pretty much undercover despite having a lengthy career. The impression I get is that they haven't really been seeking fame and fortune all that much, but by accident or design have been more of a local treasure to their home state of Louisiana. The number of albums recorded and released kind of suggests that they prefer the stage over the recording studio as well, although that is obviously an assumption. Broadly speaking, the type of music the band explore is probably best classified as jazz-rock, and an instrumental variety of it at that. This latest album of their is a live production, recorded when the band celebrated 43 years as an active band back in 2018. And it is an album that showcase that this foursome is quite the tight band on stage, seamlessly running through even rather challenging material with an easy many bands could envy. It would also appear that this is the rare kind of band that doesn't suffer from any ego problems at all, as each instrumentalist is given ample room and space to shine, and it would appear that each and every one of them prefers to do so in a collective manner rather than going all out to highlight personal skills. The individual solo runs are short and sweet, and more often than not fitting the total surroundings rather than one instrument taking up a clearly dominant position. And there are plenty of sections featuring two or more instruments combining in different manners to create harmonies or subtle disharmonies, and whenever the band ventures out on a more expressive run there's at least one instrument that easily binds the more expressive aspects of the performance together. It is an often thrilling experience to hear a band that manages to perform with such an ease and apparent watertight cooperation. Woodenhead is a band that appears to enjoy to mix and blend a lot of different details into their music. The foundation is rather clear cut in a jazz-rock tradition, and occasionally they will venture out in a more expressive manner just like the giants of the genre did back in the 1970's. But lighter toned, more playful escapades with funk details have their place here too, and they aren't at all strangers to toss in a few Americana details here and southern rock vibes there either. On occasion certain passages will feature a subtle classic rock tinged presence too, and while I doubt that this was intended I did get associations towards mid 70's Rush on a couple of occasions due to some juicy, tight guitar riffs that popped up in a couple of songs. And aye, there are also sections more clearly grounded in jazz that can be encountered here and there, but I'll give the band a lot of credit for opting to go about all of this in an accessible manner, while also remaining firmly footed well inside the challenging parameters.
Conclusion. Instrumental jazz-rock is, perhaps, something of a niche genre in progressive rock. A style that most certainly has it's fans, but also a style and direction that many find to be too challenging and not all that enjoyable. For me, this live album by Woodenhead strikes me as the instrumental jazz-rock album that those that normally do not like this type of music would have a good chance of enjoying, as well as being something of a required purchase for those who know and treasure this kind of music in the first place. A strong and often brilliant and enjoyable live album by a tight and experienced band. In a just world, they should get booking requests from jazz festivals as well as progressive rock festivals worldwide due to the talents they showcase on this album. One of the best and most enjoyable live albums I've heard in quite a bit, this one.
Progmessor: October 2nd 2019
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