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Steve Vai The Ultra Zone album cover
3.62 | 90 ratings | 4 reviews | 17% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1999

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Blood and Tears (4:26)
2. Ultra Zone (4:52)
3. Oooo (5:12)
4. Frank (5:09)
5. Jibboom (3:46)
6. Voodoo Acid (6:25)
7. Windows to the Soul (6:25)
8. Silent Within (5:00)
9. I'll Be Around (4:57)
10. Lucky Charms (6:44)
11. Fever Dream (6:03)
12. Here I Am (4:12)
13. Asian Sky (5:34)

Total Time 68:45

Line-up / Musicians

- Steve Vai / performer, arranger & producer

- Pia (Maiocco) Vai / vocals (5)
- Koshi Inaba / vocals (13)
- Takashi Matsumoto / guitar (13)
- Mike Keneally / keyboards (7)
- John Sergio / bass (4)
- Philip Bynoe / bass (5,7,12)
- Bryan Beller / bass (10,11)
- Gregg Bissonete / drums (4)
- Mike Mangini / drums (5,7,12)
- Robin Dimaggio / drums (10)
- Duane Benjamin / trombone (10)
- Andy Cleaves / trumpet (10)
- Niels Bye Nielsen / sampling (10)

Releases information

Artwork: Aaron Brown

CD Epic ‎- EK 69817 (1999, US)

Thanks to TheProgtologist for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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Buy STEVE VAI The Ultra Zone Music

STEVE VAI The Ultra Zone ratings distribution

(90 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of rock music(17%)
Excellent addition to any rock music collection(44%)
Good, but non-essential (28%)
Collectors/fans only (9%)
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)

STEVE VAI The Ultra Zone reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by MikeEnRegalia
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This is a stellar release from one of the best and - at the same time - most underrated guitarists ever. Two common preconceptions about Vai are that his primary asset is technical prowess and speed, and that his playing and songwriting lack emotions. Well, on this album he again proves that both assumptions are wrong.

This album is not for the faint of heart - I'm sure that many people will not be able to get into it. Steve Vai is a guitarist, and of course all the songs have lengthy guitar solos. But the reason for giving this album 4 stars on a website for progressive music is that here he goes way beyond other shred guitarists. Joe Satriani's Engines of Creation has a similar concept, but The Ultra Zone is like ten times more adventurous and bizarre. You can hear his Zappa influences throughout the album, not just on the

song "Frank". The whole album is a mixture of weird Avant-Prog and cool Jazz-Metal- Fusion - except for a few songs which are not very progressive, and that is the only reason for me not giving this album 5 stars.

The Blood & Tears: "Let the might of your compassion arise to bring a quick end to the flowing stream of the blood and tears ..." Quite an unusual album opener ... Vai's excursion in World music and Indian folklore. The song flows nicely, meandering through different soundscapes and occasional solo spots.

The Ultra Zone: A very funky song, and many cool breaks. It is based on a simple melody - but beefed up with some African rhythms, samples and weird chord progressions.

OOOO: This is the first weird tune - and the first real highlight of the album. Vai often uses his guitar to mimic vocals, and here the solo guitar literally screams.

Frank: This song is obviously dedicated to Frank Zappa, for whom Vai used to play in the early 80's. It's a majestic tune, and it doesn't resemble any Zappa song. Vai uses very colorful voicings which remind of Eddie Van Halen just a little bit. In the middle of the song Vai plays an amazing laid back solo, and his use of the vibrato bar is nothing short of amazing. Jeff Beck's song "Nadja" is the only song I know which is equally majestic.

Jibboom: "Just go for it ..." ... this is another homage, this time to Stevie Ray Vaughan. It's the only song on the album which is not particularly progressive, but it's still a nice fusion of Blues and Jazz-Funk. In the latter half Vai plays some familiar SRV voicings in a very funky rhythm.

Voodoo Acid: This is the first - and one of the few - tracks on this album with vocals. The lyrics tell a weird story of how to have intercourse with a swarm of bees - or something like that. Vai uses morphed vocal parts for the bees' voices - watch out for the queen of the hive ... later in the song she gets angry and the song climaxes in a weird solo by Vai's octafuzzed guitar and the queen and her hive, who sound like dozens of Indian temple mistresses on a x10 timewarp trip ...

Windows to the Soul: The 7th song on any Vai album is always a beautiful ballad. This one is very nice - no alarms and no surprises, if you will. The rhythm is quite odd: 7/4 grouped in 3 + 4, with the accents cleverly positioned to throw off your counting.

The Silent Within: Now this is a track for all the polyrhythm maniacs out there - the vocals, drums and various instruments lead a life of their own here. The song starts without drums, followed by a short bridge dominated by cleverly orchestrated choirs. The rest of the song is dominated by Vai's guitar solo.

I'll Be Around: Another ballad ... beautiful, and quite funky and uplifting at times. Not very progressive, but outstanding nonetheless.

Lucky Charms: If I had to recommend one single track to someone who doubts Vai's progressive talent, it would be this one. Here Zappa really shines through - without the music sounding like any Zappa song I know. It shows that Vai really matured as a songwriter, compared to his early progressive songs on Flex-Able. The song features many different parts, interesting breaks, horn sections, wild unisono vibraphone runs, dramatic slow downs and accellerandos ... awesome. And during all of

that it never sounds constructed or forced - as complex as it is, this song is based on a simple melody.

Fever Dream: The most interesting aspect of this song is that Vai plays it on a three neck guitar on stage. And yes, he plays on all three necks simultaneously, you'll have to trust me - or go to one of his shows. The song is based on some futuristic sounding chord progressions, and flows rather nicely for about three minutes. The following 2 minutes are pure Jazz Fusion, remotely similar to parts of the Fire Garden Suite.

Here I Am: This is again a rather straight song, and a nice change after the previous two weird tunes. The use of layered guitars in combination with the vocals in the chorus is quite remarkable.

Asian Sky: This songs is like an extension of Fever Dream, with lots of Asian elements thrown in, including Japanese vocals.

Review by Chicapah
4 stars This is the third of Steve's albums that I've had the pleasure to know. My other reviews of his records will inform you of the immense respect I have for him and musicians of his caliber who are able to transcend the label of being merely "pretty damn good" and soar into the realm of "holy crap incredible." To say that Vai is that kinda guy is to venture into the area known as the blatantly obvious. His mastery over the guitar frequently causes my stubbly jaw to drop. And he ain't just doing slight-of-hand studio tricks. I caught one of his concerts not long ago on the boob tube and I sat in amazement at the sounds he was coaxing out of his instrument in a live setting. Having said that, it's one thing to be proficient and another to be creative. A typical first chair violinist can play a difficult concerto by Mozart with his eyes closed yet not be able to conjure up an original musical idea on the order of "Wild Thing" even if his life depended on it. So, in order to be a complete package of skill and imagination, one must be gifted in both camps. Steve Vai is and his impressive "Ultra Zone" stands as proof positive.

He opens with the Indian-tinged "The Blood Tears," a curious blend of female spoken and sung segments weaving over, under and around a basic rock beat. The intriguing platform this song stands on promises that surprising things are in store for the listener. Steve's playing is clean and somewhat reserved throughout the tune, as if he were warming up in the bullpen. "The Ultra Zone" is next whereupon metallic, percussive thuds precede the number's launch into an up-tempo pace. Here Vai is adventurously dabbling into world rhythms and I commend him for it but it's his stunning guitar virtuosity that rivets my attention over all else. "Oooo" follows and it's a killer cut. Growling guitars are always a plus in my book but the witty and highly enjoyable Zappa-esque interludes push the song into the territory of the sublime. It has a strange arrangement (in a good way) while it wisely retains its melodic charms from beginning to end. Speaking of the late, great bearded wonder, Steve honors FZ with the heartfelt "Frank." His playing in this heavy ballad is quite beautiful without ever becoming wearily saccharine. The regal subtleties in Vai's performance add a touch of grace and class rarely found in Progland, making this tune the highlight of the record.

Steve pays tribute to Stevie (another icon taken from us too soon) on "Jibboon" by building the number upon a simple blues progression and then proceeding to blast a hole in the studio wall with a stream of spectacular six-string salvos. Even a novice guitarist can appreciate that this is a mad genius at work who has few peers. It sizzles. "Voodoo Acid" is next and its expected weird vibe suggested by the title doesn't disappoint. Thank heavens Vai's rhythmic narration stops short of falling into a rap trap. It's more along the lines of poetic story-telling than that. All in all it comes off as a fun experiment that turned out to be comprehensible and, since it never tries to become "scary," it's a loopy trip into surrealism. "Windows to the Soul" is a bright gem. Its semi-mellow groove in 6/4 time supports Steve's stratospheric guitar manipulations perfectly. This song efficiently displays the profound emotions that can be expressed through even the simplest of instruments when wielded by a maximally talented artist. "The Silent Within" follows and it succeeds in capitalizing on the momentum generated by its predecessor. It's another Indian-influenced piece but Vai adds an engaging vocal track that sets it apart from the album's curtain-raiser. The tune's clever harmony schemes and smartly orchestrated spurts of aural color add undiluted excitement.

"I'll Be Around" doesn't fare as well. It's a love song and, understandably, is inherently conservative and predictable. It's akin to what Dream Theater sounds like when they chill out but it pales in comparison to the other tracks. "Lucky Charms" is next and it does a superb job of allowing the record to quickly regain its traction. Possessing an incurably uplifting melody line delightfully augmented by sharp brass, it really spotlights Steve's versatility and willingness to shift gears at a moment's notice. After a thrilling start it morphs into a syncopated funk segment and then evolves into a movement involving stirring symphonic passages that'll keep you wondering where he's going next. This number is a truly impressive example of ingenuous prog rock done right. "Fever Dreams" is another of my favorites. Its smooth but zippy pace sustains the abrupt changes in mood that arise over and over. With Vai the tones he produces are so extraordinary that sometimes I forget it's a guitar he's playing and this is one of those instances as his innovative forays flourish and thrive. "Here I Am" is little more than an old-fashioned rawker with a decent lead vocal supplied by Mister Vai (who's no slouch in that department). Unfortunately, the song lacks the strong hook required to make it memorable. The vocal-heavy "Asian Sky" is the caboose on this train, a hard-hitting tune with a big, Styx-styled chorus that falls far short of inducing the intended goose bumps. Luckily for us Steve tosses in a spirited head-cutting sequence wherein he duels with himself to blazing results but I'm glad that he put this one last.

Face it, Steve Vai is a freak of nature who received a lion's share of the guitar-playing genes in his DNA design. I and 99.999% of the axe men in the world have no earthly idea how he does what he does so well but we can't deny the fact that what we hear him do so consistently is the real McCoy. He can play like an angel or a demon depending on what's required and he makes music that appeals to both aficionados of the genre and the most naďve of its adherents at the same time. No easy feat, that. "The Ultra Zone" is a stellar work created by a remarkable savant. 4.2 stars.

Review by Prog Leviathan
3 stars Guitar-virtuoso Steve Vai sends us another collection of excellent, personality-filled, artful hard rock jamming with Ultra Zone, his 5th release. More so than his other works that I've heard, this one is all about Steve's fingers doing crazy things to his guitar. Half of the songs on this album are instrumental set pieces, each with a distinct vibe and varying shred-factor. Vai is a killer player, and if you're into guitar and rock, it's hard to be disappointed. Each of these instrumentals (which take up the entire first side of the album), are crisp, modern, and filled with personality. While none of it is especially daring or experimental from a songwriting perspective, Steve's playing makes them a lot of fun; great for some rocking background grooves, but also creative enough to reward careful listening. Some make more of an impact than others, but all are solid. Vai handles vocals for the remaining songs, which are also great. There's an inherent likability when it comes to Vai's playing that makes this work easy to enjoy.

For many listeners, Ultra Zone will be a fun rock album with crazy guitar effects; for musicians aficionados, it could be an academic experience. I sit somewhere in the middle. I had a lot of fun with Ultra Zone, but was left wanting more in terms of scope or composition. That seems crazy to say, given Vai's pedigree, but I didn't feel a sense of build or drama with this release; each song could be taken on its own, and while a great experience when taken in isolation, the album as a whole doesn't drive home a musical message beyond a sense of playfulness. This isn't a bad thing, just something that makes Ultra Zone a good but not great release for me. Lots of fun when the mood strikes.

Songwriting: 3 - Instrumental Performances: 5 - Lyrics/Vocals: 3 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Latest members reviews

3 stars Not being a Vai fan, i think, my opinion adds some more objetivisim about his work. I am not keen on "virtuoso" stuff. Anyway, i think Vai implies certain tons of emotion on his songs and adds some quite astonishing breaks and synthetisers which round his guitar work quite well. The problem with m ... (read more)

Report this review (#102859) | Posted by Tomás | Tuesday, December 12, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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