Monday, November 21, 2011

“Bryan Beller: Wednesday Night Live” (Onion Boy Records)

For those of you don’t follow contemporary instrumental music closely (alas, that would seem to include the great majority of people under 35), and may not know who Bryan Beller is, he is one monster of an electric bass player, best-known for his work with Steve Vai. This point is driven home by the audio mix of this DVD, which allows the bass lines to burrow deep inside of you, grab hold of your viscera, and refuse to let you go.

This alone might serve as recommendation enough for some of you, but the rest of the band is worth making a fuss over as well. This is one inventive quintet, not just a super bass player with four other guys. Guitarists Griff Peters and Rick Musallam (each of whom plays lead on particular types of songs), keyboardist Mike Keneally (who also picks up a guitar), and drummer Joe Travers make up the rest of this finely-honed unit. It quickly becomes clear that these are musicians who work together a lot, and have done so for quite some time. Indeed, this is not just Bryan Beller’s band, it is also Mike Keneally’s band, and the two have been known to play together at the same place on the same night.

Stylistically, I would call this jazz-rock fusion from the rock point of view, more compositional and structural than flights-of-fancy improvisational., though there’s still quite a bit of spontaneity to it. Although the band’s sound does tend to be a bit bass-centric, the other players certainly get ample opportunity to show up their prodigious chops as well as their creativity, interacting with each other with taste and a great deal of respect. The music is erudite without being pedantic or sterile, engaging the listeners’ emotions as well as the mind. It is,m after all, entertainment, not just a lesson in technique.

With the emphasis being on musicianship rather than showmanship, the camera work is crucial to keeping the viewer’s interest up throughout. We see five musicians and their equipment crowded together on a rather small stage, but the multi-camera set-up and sensitiive direction (by Dave Foster) keep it from ever becoming claustrophobic.

In addition to the top-notch main concert, the DVD is rich in bonus footage, which must double the length of the disc. There are performances featuring other editions of Beller’s band, with slight, but significant personnel changes, a jazz-flavored tune with Beller on piano, a guest appearance by saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez, videos of performances filmed at CD release parties, and other musical clips, both video and audio-only. There are also substantial interviews with.each of the current members of the quintet to help place the music in perspective. If that’s enough, Beller has supplied “very, very extended liner notes” at
(This is an instrumental musician who loves to write words as well as music, judging by the amount oif verbiage to be found on his website, )

Well worth checking out by fusion fans, prog-rockers, and just plain music lovers.

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