Album review: "Spectrum Road"
By Mike Joyce
Friday, June 29, 2012
Buckle up for this: an all-star jazz-rock quartet saluting the late Tony Williams, the most widely acclaimed and formidable drummer in fusion jazz history.
There’s nothing halfhearted, and certainly nothing underpowered, about Spectrum Road’s self-titled debut. A sometimes earsplitting, ferociously propulsive celebration of Williams’s Lifetime ensemble, the album boldly combines and contrasts the input of bassist-vocalist Jack Bruce, guitarist Vernon Reid, keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. Not surprisingly, Bruce, who was a member of Lifetime at one time, and Santana, who recently devoted an entire album to the drummer’s legacy, sound fully committed to this homage. But the same can be said for Reid and Medeski, who play significant roles throughout.
Bruce’s unmistakable voice has held up remarkably well over the years, but the lyrics drawn from Lifetime’s repertoire tend toward the slight or cosmic. For all his effort, Bruce can’t convince us that they’re worth revisiting. Fortunately, Bruce spends most of his time playing bass amid the roiling currents created by Santana and Medeski. Along with tunes recorded by Lifetime in the ’70s, the album boasts an original Spectrum Road tune, “Blues for Tillmon.” It’s a shimmering, playfully interactive tribute to Williams and a reminder of Reid’s often overlooked subtlety.