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Zaza, Neil: When Gravity Fails

I own only one CD by guitarist/bassist Neil Zaza - Staring at the Sun, his fourth release - but I've probably played it more times than I have any other instrumental CD by an electric guitar player, including material by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Staring at the Sun boasted the one-time rhythm section for Journey (Ross Valory on bass and Steve Smith on drums) and a deeply chilling version of "Purple Rain" that could only be bested by the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

Now - one compilation, a studio record and two holiday albums later - comes When Gravity Fails, the Ohio native's eighth CD loaded with 13 melodic hard-rock gems, jaw-dropping solos and an even more impressive guest list than Staring at the Sun that would make better-known players squeal: bassists Valory and Michael Anthony (yes, that Michael Anthony), drummers Smith and Bobby Rock, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and fellow guitarist Peter Frampton. Zaza's signature fluid style bleeds all over songs like, well, the Celtic-influenced rocker "Bleed," the airborne opener "Something Anything" and the thick "Ultra." "Purple Plush" rocks like "Suffragette City," "Heavyocity" appropriately features Anthony's plodding low end, the thoughtful "My Only Son" echoes with U2 references, "Danza Della Notte" evokes dramatic aural imagery, and you can almost hear the imaginary chorus on the rocker "In My Dreams." Zaza creatively builds the exultant closing track "Before the Throne" around a traditional church hymn, and the minimalist piano-and-guitar piece "My Dear" resonates long after the final notes fade. There's a reason why Zaza calls his record label Melodik.

Unlike other instrumental guitarists, Zaza is smart enough to retain control of his playing. Sure, When Gravity Fails lifts off with lots of soaring, high-pitched arena-rock soloing (part of what makes the record so refreshing and endearing), but nary a single note sounds out of place. Nor does Zaza ignore his fellow musicians. In fact, "Cinematic" emerges as one of the album's prettiest and best songs precisely because Zaza allows Rudess a mesmerizing piano solo in the middle, accented by Frampton's classic-rock fretwork. The man's example is one that many younger players - and even some older ones - should heed. We need more musicians like Neil Zaza.


Track Listing:
1) Something Anything
2) Purple Plush
3) Cinematic
4) In My Dreams
5) Bleed
6) Celestine
7) Danza Della Notte
8) Heavyocity
9) My Only Son
10) My Dearest
11) Ultra
12) The Awakening
13) Before the Throne

Added: November 6th 2006
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Score:
Related Link: Official Neil Zaza Web Site
Hits: 4608
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Zaza, Neil: When Gravity Fails
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-11-06 17:42:24
My Score:

Two words are all you need to know in regards to Neil Zaza's latest intrumental release-melodic and tasty! That's right, melodic and tasty. Sure, there's plenty of shredding here on When Gravity Falls, an all-instrumental affair that sees the guitar stud joined by an all-star cast that includes folks like Jordon Rudess, Michael Anthony, Peter Frampton, T.M.Stevens, Steve Smith, and many others. But first and foremost are the multitude of memorable and catchy melodies, the soaring lead lines, and the bright harmonies. When Zaza drops in a searing solo or perfectly executed crunchy riff, you'll get chills and remember the first time you heard Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, only on this occasion the first thing you'll realize is that it's 2006, not 1989, and that we are not supposed to get this type of reaction to an all-instrumental guitar album in this day and age. Well, you can kiss that piece of logic out the window, as there's plenty to get excited about here. With moments of beautiful restraint as well as axe-man mania, When Gravity Fails has it all, and then some. Not only are Zaza's chops jaw dropping, but his tone is just gorgeous, and to go along with all his technical skills is a knack for writing great instrumental songs. Throw in a solid support cast who help make all this happen, and you have a stellar instrumental album that you will be more than happy to spread the word about and enjoy for the ages.



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