Here’s something that some of us have been looking forward to for years: Christian guitar maestro Phil Keaggy more than holding his own on an instrumental recording with a couple of secular giants.
Time: 12 tracks / 47 mins
Tony Levin in particular has a gold-plated CV, being Peter Gabriel’s regular tour bassist and a core part of King Crimson, but also playing with so many top musicians that it is hard to know where to start. Christian artists include Maria McKee, Jennifer Knapp, dc Talk and Michael W. Smith; he has the jazz chops to work with Buddy Rich; and household names for whom he has recorded include Bowie, Bacharach and several members of Yes, Roxy Music and Simon and Garfunkel. So that’s the iceberg tipped.
Marotta has also played with a solo Beatle, Indigo Girls and with Levin in Gabriel’s band.
Opener “Sometimes 11” sets the tone well. It is unmistakeably Keaggy, played in 11/12 time and using the rhythm section’s expertise. These are musos enjoying the job.
On “Sometimes We Up,” Levin plays a pretty straight rock bass line, liberating Keaggy to fly wherever he feels on top; but with a creative bassist like him, you might feel cheated if he were to play that way all album and on other tracks, he seems in his own world, as if he is playing against Keaggy’s rhythm, while Keaggy is playing on top of Levin’s bass, the two ‘happening’ to coincide. It feels like a different model to playing off each other in duet form.
The album’s genesis as three days of jamming comes through. Although they have revisited the project on-and-off over a decade to tighten things up, some pieces still feel improvised, with ragged edges and changes in direction. I even caught enough of a Jeff Beck line from Wired in “Phil’s On” that it must either be deliberate or subliminal.
The somewhat short “Good Stuff,” though, is one example of the trio being very tight, with their rock tinted by funk.
“Carved in Stone” is the rockiest piece here, with Marotta pounding the cowbell and Keaggy’s riffs dug up from his ‘60s memories, echoing bands like Cream.
Although it is also built on some jazzy chords, “Steely Funk” is as the title suggests, and in the middle, Keaggy breaks out into a full-on solo.
“Caravan” is another highlight, with a languid mood that could be played over images of silhouetted camels walking across sand dunes, Keaggy bringing out a slightly oriental vibe.
“Fearless” and “Midland Crisis” are slower, simpler jams, the former giving more space to Levin, while the short “Blue Hawaii” gets its name from the slide guitar that Keaggy solos over.
Overall, this is very much like a compilation of Keaggy instrumentals from across his career, because he has often employed the sort of percussive feels that Jerry Marotta produces here. The end result is also executive producer Paul Grimsland finally getting to tick off a box of his bucket list.