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Dean Watson - Unsettled CD (album) cover


Dean Watson


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.82 | 52 ratings

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4 stars Unsettled - Continuously moving or changing. Not situated in one place.

In May 2010 an interview appeared in Canada's national newspaper The Globe and Mail with the grandad of shock rock Alice Cooper. Alice wasn't happy with the state of music these days. He complained that young musicians today are lazy. Guitarists don't take off like the way they used to. The attitude is there but the music is AWOL. He suggested that they should listen to the song structures of Burt Bacharach, Paul Simon and Laura Nyro. This from a guy who used to hang himself on stage and sing about macabre subject matter such as dead things and phobias and still does from time-to-time.

Perhaps these budding young musicians Alice is referring to should listen to the instructive music of Toronto based Canadian multi instrumentalist / fusion wizard Dean Watson who recently started to make a name for himself in the progressive fusion jazz collaboration "Where's The Nine" that also featured drummer extraordinaire Barry Connors ( Coney Hatch, Lee Aaron ) on a crazed 2008 CD entitled " Desensitized To Insanity ". On his latest collaboration of sorts he teams with avant-garde Toronto artist Ron Eady whose somber paintings sometimes recall the disturbed visions of Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch or the distorted visions Irish / English painter Francis Bacon. While one would expect the musical extrapolations of such work to be of a more gloomy nature, instead Watson presents an allogeneous collection of 10 compositions derived from 70s fusion jazz and progrock stylings and rather than taking musical cues from Black Sabbath or Norwegian death metal we hear flourishes of Rush, Alan Holdsworth, Keith Emerson. Gentle Giant and Pat Metheney amongst others.

One thing that I thought about when first confronted with this musician / painter combination was Rusian composer Modest Mussgorsky's 1874 Pictures At An Exhibition piano suite ( later sliced and diced by English progrockers ELP ) that paid hommage to a collection of controversial drawings and water colours by a close friend who was scrutinized by the establishment for not conforming to the accepted expresionistic artistic styles of the day. Watson's masterful work here construes 10 musical impressions and variations that descend and ascend with their own unique individualities to deconstruct Eady's singular work " Unsettled " which is not exactly traditional 2010 fare.

Collations to many fusion and prog stylings are inevitable here on this frankenstein with juxtopositions galore. The opening track, " The Encounter ". seems to suggest a first impression of the painting. As Watson declares himself, he literally stared at the painting when conjuring up these musical images. Bruford's " One Of A Kind " album from 1979 immediately comes to mind when considering " The Encounter's " percussive intro, unusual rythmic meters and Alan Holdsworth influence as he mixes darker and brighter hues. Right from the get go we know that there are are going to be loads of guitar keyboard interplay, tons of drums and layering and that one listen won't be enough. The Schizophrenic exploration continues on through a piece called " The Push ", a more funked out that harks back to Jeff Beck albums from the seventies such as Wired or There & Back . One of the brainiest and variagated tracks is " Gray Matter " ( a reference to British surgeon and anatomist Dr. Henry Gray ? ) that begins with an outoward Holdsworthian intro that Watson manages to transmorgify into a guitar section reminicient of somethig you would here from Alex Liefson during the Hemispheres / Farewell To Kings / Permanent Waves / Moving Pictures Rush eras. He visits so many places on montages like this with such stylistic variance that you get an impression of a full band rather than a single guy with a determined mad scientist mindset that plays everything ( there's a ton of gear on here folks if that's what you're into believe me!) from guitars, keyboards, bass and drums some of which are his own homemade creatures plus freak knows what else.

Those familiar with the 2008 Where's The Nine disc " Desensitized To Insanity " will find this outing less manic but more eventful. Much more in the shop window here and without going too far off the deep end Watson remains more focussed and connected. Nonetheles some sections can get a bit clinical at times with some metallic guitar riffing that I find a bit overdone and not necessary and conflicts with the smoother giutar phrasing heard elsewhere on the CD. So this costs Watson one star..

Don't get me wrong the whole album is not a pedal-to-the-metal allout fusion fest and some tracks have a warmer approach with ballad-like guitar lines that you would hear sometimes from Joe Satriani or Steve Vai when they're feeling sentimental. Those familiar with Steve Smith & Vital Information's 1982 debut will no doubt find some of that in here. But my favourite track on the work has to be a ballad entitled " Out Of The Mist " and the one I feel best represents Eady's " Unsettled " painting. Somewhat of an orphan when compared to the other tracks as a whole it has a meloncholic autumn feelling of tragedy and grievance that resolves with a sudden change in dynamics at the 6:28 mark that comes unexpectantly that leads the listener to think that Watson has changed his mind about the painting in front of him and is ironically the only instance on the whole album where I actually though that the metallic guitar riffing was suitable.

Along with a handful of bands and artists still blasting away on 8 cylinders in retro-fusion mode in the spirit of pioneers like The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Larry Coryell's Eleventh Hous and Bruford' post-Crimson albums, Watson's take certainly has a true future / primitive demeanor. Of course, the stylings brought together by Watson on this jewel will no doubt always be anathema to jazz purists and even be considered passé to broader minds. Unfortunately fusion jazz has been embeded deeper into the matrix by popularization of the genre by artists such as Diana Krall ( nothing against Diana personally! ) so if you're from this school I would stay away from this animal. But fortuiously cats like Dean Watson and others like California's Planet X , Montréal's Spaced Out and The Russian Federation's Kostarev Group still forge on with a devil-maycare-fury and as long as they prowl the Earth fusion jazz lives!

Fusion heads go nuts over this gem and rejoice!

Vibrationbaby | 4/5 |


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