Rock’n’Roll hall of famer, Doors founder and co-songwriter Robby Krieger has assembled a group of feted, award-winning musicians of an impressive pedigree for this eponymous debut album. Joined by Kevin Brandon (James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, and Beyonce) on bass, Ed Roth (Ringo Starr, Brothers Johnson, Coolio, Shuggie Otis, and Annie Lennox) on keys, and Franklin Vanderbilt (Chaka Khan, Stanley Clarke, Lenny Kravitz) on drums and percussion, Krieger has formed a band of first-rate musicianship.
Tracked at Robby’s own Love Street Studios in Glendale, California, the record is firmly rooted in jazz. There is much here which sits outside the jazz or funk mainstream but the music is built from the sensibilities, modes and styles of that genre more than any other. This is partly because of the arrangements, with the jazz organ and Fender Rhodes being the principal voices for the keyboards and a wide range of rhythm patterns which owe more to jazz and funk more than anything else.
But there is more. Opening track “Shark Skin Suit” sets the tone for the project, with its heavy backbeat and overdrive guitar. This is not a conventional jazz or fusion record. We have sitar on “Samosas and Kingfishers” with its mixolydian colouring and tabla-like rhythms. “A Day in L.A.” is more conventional, with a night-time jazz lounge feel, with the piece flowing through the band like it has a life of its own, guitar and keyboard feeding off each other. We have kind of conventional band feel again on “Bouncy Betty” where we have more standard ensemble-playing, with short solos breaking out of the texture of the music. Only on the bluesy number “Contrary Motion” does the jazz ensemble strategy of the record come unstuck, producing a number which lacks the sophistication and spark of the rest of the album.
While Roth’s keyboard is often foregrounded, with longer solos and providing the main instrumental texture for the pieces, Krieger’s guitar is the punctuation, the panoramic viewpoints along the musical journey of the album. No style is off limits, albeit within the musical space which bounds the record. We have slide guitar, occasionally reminiscent of the tremolo bending of Jeff Beck, standard blues, simple jazz playing or more advanced material as on “Math Problem”, and some rock influences are clear on pieces like “Never Say Never” and “Bouncy Betty”, and the excellent closing solo on “Shark Skin Suit”. He’s never content staying put for too long, though, and the more experimental lines come in as he sets his fingers free. “Ricochet Rabbit” sees him taking his slide playing even further away from the jazz sphere, getting closure to some of David Gilmour’s pedal steel playing on mid-period Pink Floyd.
“Killzoni” is the most striking and adventurous piece on the record, with its restless rhythm parts, edgy modal feel – an oblique, gripping and abstract piece. This track alone makes the record worth a listen. Second to this, “Ricochet Rabbit” is the other standout piece, with a rich, dazzling piano solo and a full, upbeat feel, exemplifying everything which makes this a good record – tight playing, joyous arrangements, and catchy lines.
There are echoes of Krieger’s famous antecedents in some of the music, but even without the heritage of the main man or the rest of the ensemble, this record would stand on its own as a first-rate contribution to jazz fusion, with the variety of arrangements and musical styles marking it out. By and large these are synthesised well, as on “Samosas & Kingfishers” where the shift from the Indian feel to the closing Fender Rhodes solo seems perfectly natural, but it doesn’t always work so well, as on “Blue Brandino”, where the changes of colour give more of a feeling of a patchwork than an integrated whole. The most critical thing here, especially for fans of Krieger, is that it is largely his guitar playing that lifts the record above the ordinary and gives it something more. Despite the name, this is not a savage record. Quite the opposite – it is an intensely attractive, approachable, and catchy record, full of fine melodies, upbeat organ and guitar solos, and excellent rhythm playing, that wears its musicianship lightly and lets the feel of the music do the talking.
4.5/6 | Alex Maines
Release date: 19 January 2024