I've longed to see just which band would take the bull by the horns and rise to the forefront in the world of progressive fusion/jazz-rock. Back in the 70's, when this style was extremely popular, artists such as Miles Davis, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Lifetime, Weather Report, Passport, Frank Zappa, Brand X, KRAAN, and Jean Luc Ponty, produced music that pushed all the boundaries, combining elements of jazz with aggressive and technical rock music, thus the genre called fusion was born. In the last decade, a few bands such as Tribal Tech, Vital Information, and the Elektric Band, have taken fusion to the next level, incorporating modern sounds while still retaining a high sense of musicianship. However, in the last few years, Planet X, led by former Dream Theater keyboard player Derek Sherinian, has added some metal muscle into this formula that, combined with jaw-dropping chops, has made for one of the most impressive fusion ensembles in recent memory.
With a few albums under their belt, Planet X has seemed to really hit their peak with Moonbabies. Sherinian, guitarist Tony MacApline, and drummer Virgil Donati, are completely locked in and bursting with tasteful, melodic chops of doom on this CD that it is scary at times. "The Noble Savage" is the perfect mix of metal and jazz, with heavy rhythm guitar work laying the groundwork for the hailstorm of torrential keyboard and guitar lines to follow. Donati's drum technique is simply awesome on the raging "Digital Vertigo", which also features funky synth passages from Sherinian along with MacApline's melodic axe-work. Those who like a bit more jazz will love "Ataraxia", which lets Tony show more of his mellow sensibilities in a less aggressive setting. The song "Ground Zero" perfectly focuses on portraying drama and tension, with Sherinian's electric piano notes providing the anchor for the heavy guitar chords and liquid lead lines. If you dig guitar and keyboard exchanges, there are many here, especially on the hot "Midnight Bell", where Derek's fuzzy synth lines do battle with Tony's sweeping arpeggios like two knights on a joust field. Planet X never sacrifices melody for chops however, as these tunes are always memorable, and never just an excuse for excessive wankery. A perfect example of this is on the stellar closing number "Ignotus Per Ignotium" which features a killer guitar riff, rumbling bass lines from Jimmy Johnson, and some sweet solos from both MacAlpine and Sherinian. The riff will stick on your head long after the CD is done, and the solos so tasty it's like icing on the cake.
Bass duties on the album fall into the hands of Tom Kennedy, Jimmy Johnson, and Billy Sheehan. I hope that Planet X latches on to a full-time bassist for future releases and tours, as it will really solidify this formidable line-up. Perhaps Mr. Sheehan, or even Dave LaRue, can find time to permantly join this ensemble while on breaks from Niacin or the Dregs/Steve Morse Band? Highest recommendations on this one.