Who would have thought that Tribal Tech would reunite? After the band's formation in 1984 by guitarist Scott Henderson and bass player Gary Willis, it took about ten years to finally create a stable line-up with keyboard player Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington. They now are a successful heavy fusion band that always challenges the listeners with music that usually needs a second or third listen in order to get the whole picture. With their latest album Rocket Science (2000) it seemed that the quartet's musical journey had ended. The individual members pursued other musical interests, but always with some kind of twist of Tribal Tech's fusion style. Somewhere around 2009 rumours on Facebook had it, that plans were made to get together again in order to write music for a new album. Eventually they released their tenth regular album in 2012, 'surprisingly' titled X.
In the beginning the band were a showcase for the technical abilities of both Scot Henderson's guitar skills and Gary Willis' adventurous bass sounds. Over the years the sound has been modelled around the current line-up. Scott Kinsey produces some perfect layers of smooth keyboard sounds for the brilliant guitar play as in Palm Moon Plaza, but he also excels as a keyboard soloist. Just listen to his solos in Time Lapse and Working Blue. For me the first piece represents the music on the entire album, since all musicians get the opportunity to show their skills. At the same time they sound incredibly coherent and tight. How much expression can you put in a bass part like the one in Anthem? It's the typical Gary Willis sound. Then Henderson takes over with his nice and freaky guitar sound always serving the melody provided by the keyboards.
However, there's always a song on the album that goes beyond the boundaries of musicality like Ask Me A Question. At first it seemingly sounds like unconsidered music, but then gently segues in an impressive, grooving showcase for Henderson's bag of tricks. Let's Get Swung gets closer to the real jazz thing in which the listener, who isn't familiar with Tribal Tech's music, gets an impression of how they build up a song. I really love the guitar sound here! Perhaps one of the most impressive songs on the album is Corn Butter, the modern sounding final song that incorporates funk, nu-jazz and a lot of programming, I guess. Scott Henderson's guitar sounds almost bluesy on top of these samples.
To put it in a nutshell: there's progress in Tribal Tech's music, but I think that most fans are not waiting for a major change. They were just happy with the superb songs from the past and they want to continue listening to the impressive craftsmanship in the future as well. However, the samples in Corn Butter add a new dimension to the already awesome skills of these musicians. It definitely builds a bridge to the more modern fusion of recent years. Speaking for myself, I'm a fan from the beginning and I don't think Tribal Tech will ever make a bad album, because they're technically superb and their compositions are always flawless.
**** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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