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Dean Watson - Fantasizer ! CD (album) cover


Dean Watson


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.95 | 59 ratings

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4 stars "I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life." -- Sherlock Holmes Quote

Mr. Dean Watson, likewise, shares a music soundscape outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. Dean is a one man songsmith, well-versed in the fusion instrumental idiom and capable of driving home a solid, coherent release. Dean's titles get placed in the jazz/rock fusion category, but that's a wide, broad range of music. To clarify, Watson's music is more in the fusion rock territory not-so-much the Jaga Jazzist, The Wrong Object or Trioscapes vicinity of jazz, nor the genre-bouncing Dixie Dregs, or the mind-tripping, instrumental improvisational mastery of Hellborg, Lane & Sipe. Distilling Dean's zeitgeist down to the everyday progger, simply put, it's Planet X-lite. A lot of guitar and key laden pizazz, but without the overly edgy, skull-shattering, crotch-kickin' aggressiveness. Watson's album leaves you without feeling like your ears were just sodomized by big shot musicians who just schooled you in the "house of shred." It's more accessible -- and a nice change for once! I like Watson's approach. I had a similar giddy feeling recently listening to A Triggering Myth's The Remedy of Abstraction. (If ever there was a great pairing for a concert event?) It's the slightly softer side of complexity. It's unlike music that is sitting on my chest and giving me the equivalent of a sonic "wet willie" (moist finger in the ear... did you hear that lick? How about that one?) It's an aural hug, not a slap.

Some Fantasizer highlights: the 7/8 meter of "The Anomaly" was jovial sonic fun. Equally charming was the playful time of "At Odds." The title track's phrasings and solo runs were whimsical and well conceived. The atmosphere of "Twig" was a refreshing cool. "Freak" went in all sorts of directions with solid chordal punctuation and a nice contrast in conversations between the keys and guitar. It's hard not to admire the use of odd time signatures throughout, which don't sound forced, they are very fluid and blend seamlessly with the rest of the compositions. It's hard to got bored with Fantasizer, as a listener as it pays favor to keys, guitar, melody and creative chord structures almost exclusively. Not a lot of drumming or bass features, the rhythm section simply compliments the music, sometimes with complexity, but not really spotlighted. There's not much in the way of percussion or orchestral instrumentation, a la Änglagård or Maudlin Of The Well, as this collection of instrumental songs keeps focused on the meat and potatoes. Not a bad thing in the slightest, but if you're fat off a diet of Ske's 1000 Autunni, know that this is getting back to the nut of it all. Guitars, keys, bass and drums all recorded masterfully and with respectable engineering.

Going back to Planet X, however, (there's an urge to illustrate for those who grew up on the shred diet) Watson differs from them and many instrumental super-groups, though, by remaining just a one man band -- none of the great instrumental guests that Sherinian's solo works calls upon are entertained. It's missing the names of collaborating instrumentalists that musicians want to keep abreast of: Donati, Holdsworth, Jimmy Johnson, etc. Those cats bring so much of their own spice to the table that you know the sonic meal is gonna be tasty. Dwelling on that premise, however, one could even argue that "brand" names are not really even required. Indeed that's true. Outside "name" artists (here in the U.S.), 6-string whiz Kiko Louriero employed a fantastic rhythm section on his Universo Inverso which can leave aspiring musicians mesmerized and studying for months. Even the release Panopticon (add that one to the PA wish list), by new Berklee guitar whiz Alek Darson is pushing new horizons based off old inspirations (Vai, Govan) and has some incredible support by persons with names I will never be able to pronounce. Point is, the best part of instrumental music is the collaboration of ideas from masters of various backgrounds. It's showcasing ideas from a collective experience, something notably respected in the traditional jazz idiom. Fantasizer is a very strong release, but for future albums this reviewer is extra curious to see if the adventures of Mr. Watson will be one of collaboration with hints of improvisation. Collaboration usually leads to innovation, new territories that oftentimes wield pleasant surprises and new sonic landscapes. Now, savvy listeners are aware that budgets these days in the music industry are non-existent, and there are no longer label investments, only out-of-pocket expenses for the artist, so it's understandable when musicians have to forego traditional means of building a band and are forced to create music from a more monastic and all-encompassing role. But collaboration still has it's merits. There are innumerable, undiscovered and extremely talented instrumentalists that can record from home and collaborate remotely. We should encourage the idea of musical interaction and not loose sight of this in an overly convenient digital realm, no matter how realistic sounding the drum replacements are becoming (and, yes, I'm talking to you Plini and David Maxim Micic, as well). There's something about replacing a human musician -- some with decades of experience -- by a simple push of a button "in the box" that upsets this reviewer. Ok, it's a pet peeve of mine (hey, I've already encountered being pushed aside by a digital avatar in Logic -- so I'm starting a crusade)! :) Even replaced, the drumming dynamics are lacking. Quantized cymbal and drum hits, length and duration still feel a little sterile, even if midi velocities are attenuated, it's still inorganic sounding. Souless. Clinical. Machine-like.

(Aww, damn, I'm starting to preach! [waves hands in air] Sorry!. I do have to agree with another reviewer, however, as Fantasizer does contain some of the better sounding programmed drums and most listeners will be hard pressed to know the difference. They were crafted extremely well and compliment the music just fine.)

To recap the highlights, Fantasizer offers well thought-out compositions focusing on songwriting, not balls-out, devil-horns shredding. Yes, there's complex rhythmic structures and solos, but there are magical moments of space, contemplation and provocative arranging. Dean knows how to phrase melody lines that are rewarding to listen to and this is evident from the first track on the album. Fantasizer is a great stepping stone for newbs to dip their tootsies into the fusion waters without getting a mauled by the kraken of complex improvisation, microtonalities and chance theory dissonance. Definitely an album to check out if you're curious about more accessible instrumental songs. If you do take to this musical direction I would also recommend A Triggering Myth, and for something a little heavier, newcomer Alessandro Bertoni's latest release, Lalle Larsson's solo projects, and not-to-forget, the aforementioned Derek Sherinian are similar places to keep your instrumental ears happy for weeks. If you want to expand your horizons and jump fearlessly into the jazz genre, then Chick Corea's Elektric Band is your next logical step from here, of course, all after you've checked out Dean's other great work!

As a new fan I look forward to what Dean Watson will produce next!

buddyblueyes | 4/5 |


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