1. Hipster Spinster (6:06)
2. March To Orion (5:11)
3. Mystic Jam (7:28)
4. Market Square (8:13)
5. Hide & Seek (3:58)
6. Jazzmin (5:07)
7. Say What? (3:38)
8. The Timekeeper (2:53)
9. 28 Degrees (4:34)
10. Neon Noodle (4:17)
11. Z’Hadum (10:26)
12. Phantom Lair (4:41)
13. Break A Leg (4:03)
14. Christine’s Theme (2:40)
Vic Samalot – electric and acoustic guitar
Bobbi Holt – keyboards, 2nd guitar (10), percussion (5)
Jeffrey Scott – bass guitar
Ivan George – drums
Vince Broncaccio – drums (8, 10)
Phil Quidort – trumpet (4)
Sessions is the fifth album released by Cleveland-based outfit Rare Blend, founded by guitarist Vic Samalot and keyboardist Bobbi Holt in 1993. Celebrating their 17th year of activity in 2010, Rare Blend are indeed aptly named – a band that successfully blends jazz-fusion, traditional progressive rock and jam-band attitudes, coupled with a healthy dose of sterling musicianship and a genuine sense of enjoyment. A remarkably tight band, capable of tackling complex compositions and recording them in one take, they emphasize live performance rather than polished studio recording – as their long experience and affiliation with local festivals, supported by their obvious dedication to their music, allow them to take advantage of every opportunity to perform before an audience.
Sessions clearly proves that the band have come a long way since their debut as a duo, Cinefusion, released in 1995. Honed by years of regular gigging, they have gradually moved from the generic ‘prog’ approach of that first release towards a fluid form of jazz-rock rooted in the golden years of the genre, though infused with a personal touch. Rare Blend are in the habit of recording everything they play, be it in the studio or on stage, which spells a remarkable confidence in their craft. Though never rehearsed, their music shows a kind of discipline does not so much stem from endless hours spent perfecting each and every one of their compositions, as from an easy familiarity with the demands of performance.
The first part of the album contains four tracks recorded live in various venues (including the legendary Orion Studios in Baltimore, recently featured in the documentary film Romantic Warriors). Opener “Hipster Spinster” blends fluid, vintage jazz-rock stylings with atmospheric keyboards à la Pink Floyd – an influence that also surfaces in the Middle Eastern-tinged “Mystic Jam”; while “March to Orion” is driven by Jeff Scott’s solid bass line (a constant of the album, like glue holding the fabric of the compositions together), underpinning Samalot’s ever-reliable guitar forays. “Market Square” (named after the place in Cleveland where the track was originally recorded) sees the impromptu participation of Phil Quidort on trumpet, adding a wistful note to a dynamic yet oddly mesmerizing number, and sparring with Samalot’s guitar over Scott’s pumping bass line.
The six studio tracks (recorded in one take during rehearsals) display more of the band’s trademark free-form, yet appealingly melodic approach, with a loose texture ensuring that every instrument gets the chance to shine. All the tracks are rather short (with the aptly-titled “Jazzmin” the longest at 5 minutes), the funky, uptempo “The Timekeeper” and “Say What?” nicely balanced by the atmospheric mood of “Neon Noodle”, enhanced by some beautiful interplay between electric and acoustic guitar.
The Film section features four compositions conceived as soundtracks to two famous silent movies of the 1920s. The album’s longest track, the strongly cinematic “Z’Hadum” (inspired by Fritz Lang’s iconic Metropolis), is a suitably Gothic offering,with a peculiar structure broken down by frequent pauses that create a sense of palpable tension, its hypnotic pace providing an ideal backdrop for synth and guitar excursions. The three remaining numbers (inspired by the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera), all markedly shorter and veering towards classic progressive rock territories, share a similarly ominous mood.
If I had to level some criticism at Sessions, it would be on account of its running time of almost 72 minutes. Though somehow justified by the album’s distinctive format, I still feel that some judicious editing would not have gone amiss. However, the album aims at offering as complete as possible a picture of Rare Blend’s varied output, and its three-part structure makes it easier to break it down into sections for listening purposes. In any case, Sessions is packed with energetic, brilliantly executed compositions that will definitely appeal to fans of jazz-rock/fusion, especially those who enjoy spontaneous, unscripted performances. It is also an excellent introduction to Rare Blend for those who are not yet familiar with the band.