Record Label and Music Spotlight 

February / March 2003



on Rhino / Elektra


Todd Rundgren VS. Utopia
on Castle / Sanctuary



13th FLOOR MUSIC - Boston-born, Hong Kong-based guitarist Ken Rose steps out in style with his debut CD Slow Poke. Having studied with Jim Hall, John Abercrombie and John Scofield, Rose certainly has the background and he makes good use of it on Slow Poke. For atmospheric, smokey-room jazz guitar vibes, it doesn’t get any better than Slow Poke. Among the originals on the CD are Rose covers of MJQ founder John Lewis and the legendary Thelonious Monk. Featuring musical combinations like the guitar / bass duo, guitar trio and quartet sound, the 48 minute CD features Rose united with fine players including his brother Steve Rose (drums) and John Turner (double bass). One of the outstanding new players on the jazz guitar scene, Rose effortlessly amazes with Slow Poke.

AGGREGATE RECORDINGS - Raising the spirit of vintage fusion guitar icons like Frank Zappa, John McLaughlin and Allan Holdsworth, NYC-based guitarist / composer Rob Sbar achieves a rare blend of musical styles on his 2002 instrumental CD Wagon Wheels And Atom Bombs. Sbar’s deft guitar pyrotechnics are expertly balanced in the studio by Erik Feder (drums) and Matt Schaefer (bass). Not only is Sbar is gifted guitar virtuoso but he is also a wonderful storyteller who wrote a series of extensive, freewheeling dissertations in the 15 page booklet while he also designed the ultra bizarre CD cover art. Influenced by artists as diverse as John Coltrane and Sonic Youth, he’s studied with modern fretboard masters like Scott McGill and Greg Howe and on Wagon Wheels And Atom Bombs he arrives with his own interesting new twist on the latest fusion guitar sound. A masterful electric guitarist, music teacher, arranger and composer who’s equally versed in jazz, avant gard and hard rock, Sbar is off to a wonderful start on his kinetic debut CD.

COLLECTOR’S CHOICE MUSIC - The ‘80s are well represented with a 2002 Collector’s Choice reissue of Arrive Without Travelling / Ever After a CD that pairs two late ‘80s albums from The Three O’Clock, the L.A.-based pop group that featured singer-songwriters Michael Quercio and Gregg Gutierrez. The Three O’Clock sounded pretty much in the spirit of ‘80s groups like The Bangles with a little bit of Dire Straits and their single disc two-fer CD reissue on CC features 22 tracks along with extensive liner notes from 2002. Another excellent 2002 Collector’s Choice CD reissue is the first, self-titled 1972 album from Jo Jo Gunne. Featuring the music of Spirit vocalist Jay Ferguson and bassist Mark Andes, the self-titled Jo Jo Gunne remains a fabulous album that reinvented Ferguson’s pioneering work with Spirit. Collector’s Choice has also reissued a CD of the second Jo Jo Gunne album, Bite Down Hard. On another Ferguson related note, CC have released Jay’s 1977 solo album Thunder Island. Featuring production by engineer genius Bill Szymczyk, Thunder Island finds Ferguson in the company of top players like guitar legend Joe Walsh and Joe Vitale. Excellent liner notes lends further weight to this vital CD reissue. After amazing audiences with his work with Tom Verlaine in downtown NYC pop legends Television, NYC rocker Richard Lloyd released his solo debut, Alchemy in 1979, and the album was reissued on CD in 2002 on Collector’s Choice. Having also worked with pop giants like Matthew Sweet, Lloyd’s music and guitar playing is ripe for rediscovery. Fans of The Byrds will be interested in hearing the Collector’s Choice reissue of No Other, the 1974 solo album by Byrds’ founder Gene Clark. Compared to the other members in The Byrds, Clark was the mysterious one. After one listen, it’s apparent that No Other is essential listening for both Byrds and Clark fans. Described as Clark’s self-styled Sgt. Pepper’s, the album features an incredible production that traces back to the ‘60s and Clark’s pioneering work with The Byrds. /

FREE ELECTRIC SOUND - One of the best of the new jazz fusion CDs to emerge during the early 2000’s, Controlled By Radar from McGill Manring Stevens pools the talents of fretboard ace Scott McGill, bass legend Michael Manring and drummer Vic Stevens. In his April 2002 interview with 20th Century Guitar McGill spoke of his appreciation of guitar legends like fusion pioneer John McLaughlin and classical virtuoso Andres Segovia and on their 2002 MMS release on Free Electric Sound McGill and his counterparts get it all together on a altogether captivating double CD set. Topped off by freaky cover art, the double CD is split into two parts—the Right Brain disc displays some truly electrifying fusion while the Left Brain half contains a mix of subtle and uniquely atmospheric acoustic sounds. The chemistry of these top players is truly remarkable and there’s never a dull moment throughout the two discs. For fans of inventive jazz-rock sounds, Controlled By Radar is an album to hear.

GENTRY AVENUE PRODUCTIONS - Featuring the talents of George W. Mahn III, Sanctuary is the debut CD from the Dallas-based guitarist and his group Vertical Leap. Mahn performs all the electric and acoustic guitars here ably assisted by bassist John Adams. Mahn’s sound is well executed and at various times he echoes influences like prog-rockers like Justin Hayward and Mike Oldfield. The ten track all original lineup includes five vocal tracks and five instrumentals that again echo Oldfield’s work as well as the atmospheric sounds of noted film composer Angelo Badalamente. Sanctuary is a fine introduction Mahn’s rising musical prominence.

LYALL STEEL - An outstanding tribute album praising the music of The Beatles, Revolutions is the 2002 CD from Canadian acoustic guitarist Lyall Steel. Steel hails The Fab Four in his liner notes while his choice of material is also quite impressive. From the CD opener, “Come Together” to covers of “You Can’t Do That”, “Lady Madonna”, “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and a choice cover of the George Harrison Revolver favorite “Love You To”, Revolutions offers proof that even on a solo acoustic guitar these timeless melodies are still among the greatest ever written. Steel’s savvy finger-style acoustic playing and choice of material, all the way down to the Beatle-esque cover art and design of the CD makes Revolutions a class act all the way.

MOTOWN - When “Little” Stevie Wonder took the pop charts by storm with his Fall 1965 AM radio hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” it became apparent that he was no mere here today gone tomorrow singer. Well that’s exactly what happened and Wonder went on to more or less define the finest R&B pop that Tamla Motown had to offer. Just one of the many great Motown artists of the ‘60s, Wonder was the one, over the decades, that really went on to attain superstar status. Released on CD by Motown / UTV Records in late 2002, The Definitive Collection compiles 21 of Stevie’s biggest hits from 1963’s “Fingertips Part 2” all the way to his huge 1985 hit “Part Time Lover” and overall paints the soul pop icon as a unique part of American pop culture.

RHINO / ELEKTRA ENTERTAINMENT - With the Yes catalog shifting to Elektra Records, Rhino and Elektra team up for early 2003 reissues of the first four Yes albums—Yes (July 1969 - six bonus tracks), Time & A Word (November 1970 - four bonus tracks), The Yes Album (March 1971 - three bonus tracks) and Fragile (January 1972 - two bonus tracks). These rock classics were reissued several different times on CD but these 2003 Rhino reissues are the best sounding and most comprehensive yet. The brilliant sound quality befits albums of this stature and just as impressive are the detailed CD booklets which feature an abundance of color and b&w photos and complete lyric sheets for each album. Perhaps the most intriguing thing here are the bonus tracks featured on each title. Highlights of the bonus tracks include a rarely heard studio version of the Steve Howe solo acoustic piece “The Clap” from The Yes Album, in addition to single versions, early versions and original mix versions of various tracks featured on each album. Another clear highlight is the previously unreleased early rough mix version of “Roundabout” on Fragile. Rhino / Elektra plans to release another seven Yes reissues during 2003. /

RRAXXO - Best known for his work with Todd Rundgren, multi-instrumentalist Ferenzik, aka John Fernezik, is also quite an excellent singer-songwriter, keyboardist and guitarist in his own right. That fact is best evidenced by hearing his excellent 2000 album Zero Points For Zeus, released on his own label RRAXXO. Featuring great players like Chico Huff (bass) and Prairie Prince (drums), Zero Points For Zeus sounds Rundgren-inspired and several pop jewels like the lead off track “Waiting In The Dark” and “Electric Sleeping Beauty” border on the sublime. Another Rundgren connection on Zero Points For Zeus is that the album features Ferenzik’s cover of Todd’s early Nazz track “Some People”. Also worth checking out from Ferenzik are Wheel Of Mesh (1997) and his outstanding instrumental rock fusion albums Devil’s Playground (1995) and Wild Man Of Borneo (1990).

- London-based Sanctuary Records and their affiliate Castle Records did a great job between ‘99 and 2001 reissuing all of Todd Rundgren’s solo albums as well as all the Utopia albums that were originally released on Bearsville Records complete with detailed liner notes. It’s also worth noting a couple of excellent Rundgren CD compilations on Sanctuary / Castle including the 2001 double disc Todd Rundgren VS. Utopia - Their Greatest Hits. Disc one of the double CD set features 15 certified Rundgren gems including favorites like “I Saw The Light”, “Real Man” and “Love Of The Common Man” while disc two features 13 tunes Todd recorded with his prog-rock outfit Utopia. Rundgren’s vision of Utopia began with the 1974 release of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and the group went on to record a number of musically complex albums including 1977’s RA and the group’s self-styled, 1980 Beatles-inspired album Deface The Music. Although it’s going on 20 years since Todd and Utopia have released any new studio sounds, Rundgren continues on as one of the true innovators of pop music. Another fine Rundgren collection on Castle / Sanctuary is the double CD set “Go Ahead. Ignore Me” - The Best Of Todd Rundgren. Somewhat more comprehensive than Todd Rundgren VS. Utopia, “Go Ahead, Ignore Me” focuses more upon Rundgren’s prodigious solo career while also touching on some of his better known Utopia hits such as 1977’s “Love Is The Answer”. Both of these double disc sets feature sparkling remastered sound while the liner notes are quite detailed in both cases clearly making them of interest for Rundgren’s many fans. All the titles in Rundgren’s remastered catalog on Sanctuary and Castle (who are now in the midst of reissuing the acclaimed Todd Rundgren Bootleg Series) are available from the enormous catalog of

- That instantly recognizable Santana guitar sound is all over The Essential Santana, a 32 track double disc set released several months back on Colombia Legacy. Covering twenty years of music recorded by guitar legend Carlos Santana and the many great players in the Santana group and all those early great albums like Santana, Abraxas, Santana III and Caravanserai, the double disc set is fleshed out by tracks from late ‘70s Santana album classics like Barboletta (1974), Festival (1976), Moonflower (1977) all the way to the set-closing title track from the John Lee Hooker album The Healer, and the title track composed by and featuring Carlos.
Another required listening Legacy release from 2002 is The Essential Heart. Kicking off with Heart’s 1975 smash “Crazy On You”, the double disc CD on Epic Legacy features all their big ‘70s hits like “Barracuda” and “Magic Man”, covers the ‘80s MTV years (and their brilliant 1987 pop torch song “Alone”) landing in the ‘90s with The Road Home (1994 - a live album produced by Led Zep’s John Paul Jones) and Desire Walks On (1993). If ever there was a group made for MTV videos Heart was it and that sentiment is well summed up by Heart co-founder Ann Wilson who in the liner notes adds, “All of a sudden you had to be not only actresses, but you had to look like hot models and be perfect in everyway. They hit us like a truckload of turkeys, basically.” Big hair, scintillating female vocals and fiery guitar-based pop torch songs. It’s all there with fitting liner notes and a nice thank you note from Ann and her sister and Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson. -

- A new album by a new artist, Lions On The Beach is the debut CD from U.K. multi-instrumentalist Simon Wolfe. A fine guitarist and keyboardist, the album paints a broad palette of trance-inducing sounds incorporating influences like John Barry (check out the CD’s cool Harry Nilsson sample), Pink Floyd and The Chemical Brothers. Wolfe adds in some Floydian vocal touches to his mostly instrumental drum and bass groove. Cinematically influenced chill-out trance vibes abound and let’s hope Wolfe has the opportunity to release further editions.

- He’s been playing guitar since he was a kid back in his native South Africa and after hearing his solo album it’s obvious that it’s paid off for guitarist Sean Mercer. Mercer’s solo debut Electric Storm is filled with a dozen blazing guitar instrumental tracks that sound quite inspired by legends like Steve Vai and Tony MacAlpine. Mercer sets his Kramer Guitars on fire on Electric Storm and the result is superbly composed and performed instrumental guitar album that combines muscular hard rock playing with thought-provoking, neoclassical compositions. He receives support from a number of players, but the center spotlight is clearly on Mercer’s soaring electric guitar performance.

- One of the classic rock-flavored minimalist recordings from 1972, Outside The Dream Syndicate paired ‘60s composer Tony Conrad with the German art-rock group Faust. A fascinating, hypnotic instrumental album that pairs Conrad’s minimalistic, droning violin sounds with the throbbing rock pulse of avant-rock visionaries Faust, Outside The Dream Syndicate was reissued in 2002 on Table Of The Elements as a 30th Anniversary double disc set, remastered and lavishly restored with an album’s worth of unreleased music and a 32 page CD booklet with expansive, insightful liner notes that puts Conrad’s musical history and Outside The Dream Syndicate specifically into a unique historical context. Similar in style to some of the work of trendsetting minimalist composers such as John Cale (after The Velvet Underground), LaMonte Young and Terry Riley as well as German art-rock groups such as Can and even Kraftwerk, Outside The Dream Syndicate remains a thoroughly unique pairing of two formidable musical forces and the net result still startles, mesmerizes and intriques. Perhaps it’s best summed by Tony Conrad himself who in the liner notes adds, “And it’s a music that keeps coming around, renewing itself with each new generation. It has never lost the quality of rediscovery.”


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