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Steve Vai - The Ultra Zone CD (album) cover


Steve Vai


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3.63 | 86 ratings

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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.

MikeEnRegalia | 4/5 |


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