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Jan Akkerman - Close Beauty CD (album) cover


Jan Akkerman

Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars Jan Akkerman has been releasing solo albums since 1968, and of course, his resume as a professional musician includes helping to form the band "Brainbox", played in the musical "Hair" and also was guitarist for the band "Focus" for a time. He was also once voted Best Guitarist in the World by Melody Maker. All the while, however, he kept producing solo albums.

In October of 2019, he released his 22nd solo album called "Close Beauty". This album includes Akkerman on guitars, Coen Molenaar on keyboards, David De Marez Oyens on bass, and Marijn van den Berg on drums. The album is all instrumental and has 12 tracks that fill a total run time of over 64 minutes.

Jan's incredible talent show through immediately in the first track "Spiritual Privacy (Sunset Tango)" with his acoustic guitar picking as his rapid, somewhat percussive fingering technique make the notes fly by you at lightning speed as the rhythm section and keys support his exceptional playing with a moderate tango beat. The supporting instruments don't have to do much because Jan steals the show with his more than adequate playing. This is followed by "Beyond the Horizon", which continues with a moderate beat, this time more rock oriented. The featured instrument is this time an electric guitar supported by a lusher background. The fusion sound comes into play as the music continues, but the background stays in a supporting roll as the guitar again takes the spotlight. The middle section is a bit more intense, but it remains soft and lush overall. Even though these first two tracks are well done, some may think they are a bit too long since the both exceed the 7 minute mark, and remain quite unchanging throughout. But Jan's talent can't be denied.

A few shorter tracks follow with "Reunion" and the title track "Close Beauty". The first one returns to the acoustic guitar, but with a solid, booming drum beat that moves things forward with more purpose. The keys come in later and play in tandem with the guitar during the main melody. "Close Beauty" is quite smooth and laid back, very melodic and lush. "Retrospection" is actually a medley of 4 songs melded together into one track. It starts with a pensive, yet linear style similar to a Bartok melody only supported by organ. The sudden shift to a lively jazz/rock that melts to another lush fusion sound brings in the band. This changes to a more direct, yet almost orchestral sounding section that is inspired by a WWI story of 2 soldiers marching together through the trees. It has a somewhat classical feel to it, almost pastoral, led more by the keys. After this the music moves along in a steady, more straightforward style, softly pushed forward by the keys, organ and guitar. It's quite an excellent and well constructed track. "Passagaglia" is another shorter track. It consists only of a 12 string guitar from Italy tuned in 5th intervals.

"Tommy's Anniversary" returns to the longer form with a 8+ minute track. It is based on a song written by Tom Barlage who plays sax and flute for Dutch progressive band "Solution". The music is a smooth sounding jazz/rock fusion, that just rolls along while Jan plays with grace, making what he does sound so natural and easy. Again, the other instruments provide mostly backup while Akkerman takes the melody and improvisation soaring around sweeping the listener along with it. The length on this track this time is not a problem as it shifts around a bit more, grows in amazing intensity as it goes changing tone as the guitars change and returns to a softer sound at the end. Excellent track.

This is followed by another group of shorter tracks starting with the upbeat and sly "Don Giovanni", the lady killer of the legend. It's a bit more based on the fast, yet bluesy style of Jan's playing. Some pizzicato playing keep the track sounding sharp and distinct while the guitar stays smooth and well-phrased, laying on a soft blanket of sustained synths, a slight symphonic edge to it all. "Meanwhile in St. Tropez" continues with a soft, yet more direct sound, while "French Pride" offers up a catchy groove. The track was originally supposed to be called "French Fries" but was misnamed and the title stuck. There are some interesting harmonies in the guitar chords that make it all sound quite unique, yet the beat will keep you bouncing. "Fromage" is a dedication to 3 blues kings BB, Freddy and Albert King. Interestingly enough, the music is straightforward, and upbeat, jazz groove, though the guitar does play a catchy blues-inspired solo in the middle. The heavy synth chords that play during the main melody sections tend to take away the blues inflection however.

"Good Body Every Evening" ends the album with another 8+ minute track which uses a rhythm guitar that pushes the lead guitar to take on a more gospel style. The background is smooth and steady, with a good backbeat. The groove does bring to mind a bouncing gospel choir as the foundation keeps the jazz vibes going and by the end of the track, it even gets a bit funky.

This album is quite excellent and has a great degree of variety to keep everyone interested. All through the varying jazz/rock fusion styles, the constant and amazing talent of Akkerman shows though unashamedly. The production is quite amazing making it so that every instrument can be heard quite plainly, and every supporting layer is important in each track. A few of the tracks tend to wander on a bit long, especially at the first of the album, but as the album continues, it becomes much more entertaining and interesting. No doubt, however, that through it all, Akkerman leaves no question in anyone's mind that he is a technical genius and is playing is amazing. This is a beautiful album, full of excellent musicianship, great melodic passages and sublime improvisation, and amazing sounds and textures. It is quite accessible with only a few complex sections, but even then everything flows along very smoothly. Easily, this is a four star album.

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Posted Friday, October 25, 2019 | Review Permalink

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