Jazz rock and fusion is not directly considered as music that appeals to the youth nowadays. Usually both fans and musicians have that certain age that younger aficionados find themselves uncomfortable or even awkward to hang around with. Luckily the jazz rock scene has gotten an new injection; transfusion could be a better word, when the youngsters of King Llama entered the musical scene with their full length debut album; Return To Ox. King Llama's members originally are self-taught, but had extensive training and education; guitarist Ryan Tanner and drummer Luis Briones visited the LA Musicians Institute and bass player Nico Staub attended CAEMSA in Buenos Aires.
King Llama's instrumental music is influenced by progressive giants like King Crimson, Rush, Yes and jam band Phish, all these tastes are used to create the prog sauce on this impressive jazz rock/fusion CD. The openers Blobo and Mighty Ox have a very natural feeling; organic with a perfect band feel. Although the guitar is the solo instrument, you can obviously hear a band at work. Both compositions are coherent and very solid, not like other bands that use the rhythm section just to support the guitar player, King Llama equalises all instruments to create their sound. With Sensei, the band has a nice chords based jazz rock tune, with proggy elements. Listen to the very strong bass lines and drum patterns, those are just beautiful. A funky element that tends towards ska music can be heard on the adventurous Just The Tip, a song that also includes a short drum solo. Nothing less than brilliant is Call Me Elmo, find it on YouTube. The interaction between the musicians is outstanding during this powerful composition, where the use of softer parts and the gigantic wah-wah parts make this my favourite song on the album. Another one that is driven by nice guitar chords is Smoking In Ergenzingen; combining heavy parts with smooth percussion driven sections. This is another song that needs your attention. I guess the same goes for Cap'n Mustard Hair; powerful, highlighting some furious bass parts as well as very inspired guitar melodies and solos with sometimes a bluesy touch. It seems to me the album is only getting better and better. Hershey Highway also cranks up the power; funky guitars are accompanied by a Les Claypool reminding bass and drums that have the intensity of Rush's Neil Peart. The final track Stogies n' Juice has a jam style feel, the rough bass absolutely competes with the cleaner guitar on this one, all carefully conducted by the solid drum playing underneath.
Return To Ox is one of the most impressive progressive fusion albums I have heard lately and is a true band effort. The whole album is in harmony and it's like you can feel the chemistry in the air when you listen to this album. This album needs to be a sample for younger musicians and should give the jazz rock/ fusion scene new blood. Obligated for fusion aficionados.
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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