Sunday, January 7, 2018

Bob Holz: “Visions: Coast To Coast Connection” (2018) CD Review

Visions: Coast To Coast Connection, the new album from accomplished drummer and composer Bob Holz, features compositions co-written by Bob Holz, most of which were also included on earlier releases, though in often very different versions. Interestingly, this is his third release in as many years to include the word “vision” or “visions” (following 2016’s A Vision Forward and 2017’s Visions And Friends, both of which featured Larry Coryell on guitar), and his group itself is called A Vision Forward. Music is considered largely an auditory experience, but some of this music could certainly create strong visions for the listeners. Just let your imagination follow the music. Joining Bob Holz on this release are (on various tracks) Stanley Clarke on bass; Ralphe Armstrong on bass; Andrew Ford on bass; Randy Brecker on trumpet; Louis Ludovic on trumpet; Jeff Jarvis on trumpet; Billy Steinway on keys; Alex Machacek on guitar; Chet Catallo on guitar; Frank Stepanek on guitar, bass and keys; Dave Porter on vocals; Ada Rovatti on saxophone; David Goldberg on saxophone; and Andrew Lippman on trombone.

This disc kicks off with “Split Decision,” a tune that combines progressive rock, jazz and even some soul elements. This track builds well, and its energetic conclusion is my favorite section. There is some great work by Louis Ludovic on trumpet, and by Andrew Lippman on trombone. “Split Decision” was also the title track to an earlier release by Bob Holz. It is followed by “Espresso Addiction,” which features Dave Porter on vocals. It’s the only track on the album to feature a vocalist, and the only track to have not been included on an earlier Bob Holz CD, and it is dedicated to guitarist Larry Coryell, who died last year. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “The world keeps spinning/And when the madness gets too much/When you, when you’re feeling so right/You’d better let your guitar play.” And later in the song, Dave sings “You know the world will remember you.” Oh yes.

“Next In Line” goes in some interesting directions. It starts with a slow groove, with some cool and prominent work on bass. Both Stanley Clarke and Ralphe Armstrong play bass on this one, delivering some great work here, some seriously impressive playing. As far as visions go, this is one of the tracks that will probably take you on an intriguing journey if you let it. This tune was also included on Split Decision. That’s followed by another tune was included on Split Decision, “Jammin’ Man,” which – as you might guess from the title – has a bit of a reggae thing happening in the rhythm, but with some interesting work from the other musicians rising above that groove, including Randy Brecker on trumpet and Ada Rovatti on saxophone. The tune then ventures into a more progressive rock landscape, before returning to the reggae feel. Both Stanley Clarke and Ralphe Armstrong play on this track as well. Bob Holz then revisits a song from his Pushin album, “Richie’s Trip.” On that album it’s titled “Richie’s Trip (A Tribute To Richie Hayward),” whereas here it is simply “Richie’s Trip,” but then dedicated to Richie Hayward. It starts off okay, but when it takes on this cool groove, verging on space disco, I start to love it. And that work on keys gives it a very different feel from the version included on Pushin. This song has a delicious vibe at times, like some wonderful jazz fusion party. And I love the horns in the second half of the track.

Okay, I admit it: the title of the sixth track, “Pink Fur,” is what got me interested in putting on this CD in the first place. It’s a fun, playful, sexy image, so I figured this track would also be fun. And it is. It’s funky and totally enjoyable, with some great work on bass and keys, and of course drums. This track would have been one of my favorites, no matter the title. “Pink Fur” was written by Bob Holz, Steve Weingart and Frank Stepanek, and is another composition that Bob Holz is revisiting here. It was also included on Split Decision. That’s followed by “West Coast Blues,” a blues number that was also included on Pushin. This one too becomes a fun jam, with some delightful work on trumpet. I particularly like that section with the bass taking lead. “West Coast Blues” was written by Bob Holz, Paulie Cerra, Billy Steinway and Joel Kane. “Light & Dark,” a tune also on Split Decision, features Alex Machacek on guitar.

“Spanish Plains,” written by Frank Stepanek (it’s the only tune on this release not co-written by Bob Holz), was also included on Bob Holz’s Higher Than The Clouds album. This one features some wonderful, impressive, effective and moving work on guitar. Frank Stepanek plays guitar, bass and keyboard on this track (the only track he plays on), and it’s one of my favorites. The album then concludes with a live track, “Flat Out,” recorded in May of 2017 at a club in Hollywood, featuring nice work by Jeff Jarvis and David Goldberg and Billy Steinway, as well as some cool, even humorous playing by Ralphe Armstrong on bass. This tune was also included on Bob Holz’s 2017 release, Visions And Friends.  

CD Track List
  1. Split Decision
  2. Espresso Addiction
  3. Next In Line
  4. Jammin’ Man
  5. Richie’s Trip
  6. Pink Fur
  7. West Coast Blues
  8. Light & Dark
  9. Spanish Plains
  10. Flat Out
Visions: Coast To Coast Connection is scheduled to be released on February 23, 2018 through MVD Audio.

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