January 20, 2014 I came to jazz through swing. And while music doesn’t necessarily need to swing for me to appreciate it, there needs to be an accessible element to draw me in, whether it’s the whimsey of The People’s Liberation Big Band or an inviting musical hook or phrase.
I don’t find that personal invitation often enough in jazz fusion, so that’s a style I generally avoid. As such, after reading Plastic Sax’s review of the new album by Dojo, Road Trip, I was a bit apprehensive before listening to the CD. He called it jazz fusion. He compared it to names who, except for Billy Cobham, I’ve never heard. He compared it to music jazz purists detest. I’m not a purist, but my sympathies lie more closely there than to fusion.
I needn’t have worried. Each of the original compositions filling Road Trip offers that musical invitation. Each draws me in with a musical phrase or hook, an invite to grab onto repeated like a riff, that even ol’ more-purist-than-fusionist me can enjoy. Most often, these lead to Brian Baggett’s guitar exploding in imaginative directions. I lack the musical vocabulary to know to whom Baggett’s style can be properly compared (this ain’t Charlie Christian), but listening closely carries you along intriguing and original, but rarely subtle, lines. Jeff Harshbarger’s and Chris Handley’s bass, and Luke Stone’s drums, provide the base along which Baggett travels.
Road Trip can be purchased on CD Baby, here, or downloaded from iTunes, here.
I don't subscribe to the notion of guilty pleasures. I freely admit my affection for scads of unfashionable music, ranging from the lewd hip-hop of Tech N9ne to the prog-rock of 1970s-era Genesis.
Perhaps no style of music is more out of favor than jazz fusion. Jazz purists detest it while most of the rock audience pretends the form doesn't exist. Road Trip, the new album by Dojo, is destined to be ignored by most mainstream outlets. It's a shame. Road Trip deserves an audience beyond the habitués of guitar shops.
The ensemble led by the Lawrence-based guitarist Brian Baggett has crafted an album that's both technically masterful and eminently enjoyable.
While rooted in the era in which fusion giants like Allan Holdsworth and Billy Cobham ruled the earth, Road Trip isn't defined by nostalgia. The influence of metal-oriented bands like Dream Theater and a trace of Metallica-style thrash can be detected in several selections while "In Times Like These" contains electronic bleeps and blurts.
Baggett's work is complimented by a pleasing variety of moods and textures. Rather than sounding like a series of long guitar solos, each track on the album possesses a unique disposition. Baggett's solos, while unrepentantly ostentatious, rarely impede the forward momentum of the melodies. Bassists Chris Handley and Jeff Harshbarger and drummer Luke Stone provide a solid foundation for Baggett's explorations.
Let the cool kids have their fun. If appreciating Dojo's powerful jazz fusion is wrong, I don't want to be right.