For people who like fusion with prominent guitar playing, the name Richard Hallebeek should sound familiar. This Dutch guitar player is one of the best musicians in his genre. I'm quite sure that the rest of the world will agree with me after listening to his second solo effort called RHPII - Pain In The Jazz. Over the years fusion has always been sort of musician's music, but thanks to the internet in general and YouTube in particular, the 'regular' music and guitar fans get the opportunity to listen to this complex, but beautiful music. After listening they often want to buy the original CD. In the years after his first solo album Richard Hallebeek Project (2005), Hallebeek has played with the cream of the crop of the jazz and fusion scene and he cooperated on albums of several other musicians.
On his second album the focus is not only on his guitar playing skills, but on almost all songs Hallebeek asked some musicians he worked with to play certain parts of a song. This was rather challenging for these guest musicians because they had to play outside their comfort zone in order to fit their own style into the distinguished style of Hallebeek's compositions. The basic tracks were played by a rhythm section that has been playing and recording together for quite a while. This certainly helped to create a solid and steady sound on the one hand and a loose experimental sound on the other. Drummer Sebastiaan Cornelissen recorded solo albums as well and together with bass player Frans Vollink and Hallebeek they recorded several project albums. Beside these two talented musicians, Lalle Larsson added some wonderful keyboard sounds. Hallebeek contributed to his solo album Nightscapes (2012) and now he does something in return.
While listening to the first song Wristkiller, I noticed how much fun these musicians must have had during the recordings. I heard influences of Richard's teacher Frank Gambale by the way he plays his guitar, but yet he creates his own sound. Alex Machack plays a great solo; he didn't have to deviate that much from his own style. In Third Phase percussion is added; Martin Verdonk's craftsmanship provides the song an additional rhythm. Although the album is guitar orientated, the strength is in the experience these musicians have, or so to say: they eat, drink and dream their music. The interplay of Larsson's keyboards and the guitar sounds wonderful and shows Larsson's true love: a blend of fusion and progressive rock. Vollink's bass is also prominently present showing his fluent way of playing. Guest musician on this song is the Spanish guitar player Jose de Castro, who has played a large number of shows together with Hallebeek and Guthrie Govan (ex-Asia). This charming musician plays far from his usual, bluesy style, but he succeeds in being a competitive counterpart for Richard's guitar.
On Bring It On Guthrie Govan is the special guest. His way of playing perfectly fits this composition and it seems there's no necessary compromise to create an outstanding piece. Both players complement each other well in this exciting composition. The title track is more relaxed, or so to say more down to earth, where you can enjoy the quartet playing in full glory. Although this piece is rather complex it still sounds as if it's easy to perform with Eric Gales playing a bluesy guitar solo at the end. People is a composition written by Hallebeek, but it could have been written by Lalle Larsson as well for it would have fitted perfectly on his solo album. Being a keyboard player with a style of his own, he adds jazz influences to his band Karmakanic, but here he feels like a fish in water since this is exactly what he's good at. People is an impressive piece with keyboards as the main ingredient and a super relaxed bass solo as a tasty side dish topped off with superior guitar playing. People who only know guitarist Kiko Loureiro as Angra's six-stringer now have the opportunity to discover his other side like on his solo albums.
Speed City Blues is a bit strange, but a beautiful sounding composition with tremendous guitar and keyboard work. After a relaxed bass solo, Loureiro plays a solo in a metal fusion style, while Hallebeek and Larsson almost pushing the boundaries of free jazz. A bit lighter and more jazz-rock is the Jacco Pastorius composition Amelia. Listen to Vollink's majestic groove on the bass together with a nice retro sounding keyboard. Richard takes a step back in favour of trumpet player Randy Brecker, but he returns with another impressive solo part. Think Of Something shows the emotional side of Hallebeek's guitar playing. The solo of Andy Timmons perfectly fits in this song where the fusion slightly turns to rock. Relaxed but impressive fusion is East Side Bridge; here the band sounds really tight. This is one of the songs I enjoy by closing my eyes and just let the music flow into my head. The harmonies with Greg Howe add something special and his typical style fits well. New World, the final song on the album, is rather short. It contains a nice interplay of acoustic guitar and piano.
People who like fusion and fine guitar work definitely have to buy this great album. The ones that pre-ordered the CD received an extra A4 booklet with all kinds of information. I was so lucky to get all the extras. This album deserves the maximum rating of five stars and I think all enthusiastic music lovers should at least give this album a try.
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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