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Niacin - Niacin Live! Blood, Sweat and Beers  CD (album) cover

NIACIN LIVE! BLOOD, SWEAT AND BEERS

Niacin

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.40 | 19 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Jazz-Rock Fusion may be a dirty word to certain (unfortunate) critics, but some of us happen to like it that way: fast and dirty, played with virtuoso chops and no shortage of muscle. Which helps to explain my recent enthusiasm for Niacin, a familiar name now finally brought to my belated attention after reading Professor Edward Macan's mammoth 800+ page biography of EMERSON, LAKE and PALMER ("Endless Enigma", Open Court Press, 2006).

In one of his many appendices Macan takes a few pages to explore similar/contrasting keyboard-based rock trios, citing this 2003 live set as maybe the quintessential Niacin album. From what I've heard so far I'm not inclined to disagree with him: musicians of this caliber are always more exciting in a concert setting, and on stage Niacin is an instrumental dynamo, easily matching the energy of a band with twice the personnel.

The recordings here were all made in the Far East, but the ambience of the CD (thanks in large part to the grungy throwback sound of John Novello's Hammond B3 organ) is of an adrenalin-driven R&B trio playing in a smoke-filled blue-collar bar. Okay, so that may not be an old-school symphonic progger's dream gig, but don't panic: the music itself is an exciting blend of funky grooves and aggressive jams, performed with pinpoint accuracy and featuring more than one knock-your-socks-off solo.

This is a tight group by any professional standard, with all three musicians at the top of his game. Novello's organ sets the mood; the spirited drumming of Dennis Chambers sets the pace (listen to his sharpshooter fills on "One Less Worry" and "Klaghorn"); but it's the astonishing Billy Sheehan who gives each track its visceral punch. If you think the bass guitar is strictly a rhythm instrument, lend an ear to Sheehan's liquid metal solo over the slow-burn blues of "Hell to Pay", only one of his several jaw-dropping moments on the album, and all the more amazing for being performed while sedately perched, Fripp-like, on a stool.

The usual complement of idiosyncratic cover material is accounted for, including "Purple Rain" (yes, the Prince tune), and a faithful but driving update of the old VANILLA FUDGE Proto-Prog chestnut "You Keep Me Hangin' On", a showcase for Novello's keyboard dexterity. The disc even includes a pair of previously unreleased studio tracks, positioned not unlike a belated encore but missing the nourishing energy of a sympathetic crowd.

If, like me, you haven't yet had the chance to see what Niacin can do in concert, this generous set will offer plenty of consolation. At least until the band's next appearance, in a beer-stained downtown bar near you.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |

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