There was a time, back in the late '80s until the mid '90s, that Scott Henderson, Gary Willis, Scott Kinsey and Kirk Covington, otherwise known as Tribal Tech, were one of the most fearsome jazz-fusion bands on the planet. In a age when fusion was almost considered a bad word, these guys took the teachings from Return to Forever, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Lifetime, and Brand X, modernized the sound, and along with Chick Corea's Electrik Band and a handful of others, kept the fusion fires burning when so much of the world was enamored with the 'smooth jazz' format. By the late '90s however, the band began to lose a little steam, with Henderson getting more and more into blues, and the rest of the guys involved in a host of other side projects and solo albums. With X, Tribal Tech's first studio album in 12 years, the classic line-up of the band has once again returned, and the results sound like a rejuvinated fusion monster unleashed.
On thier own, each member of the band is a virtuoso, and together they take modern fusion to another level. Opener "Mech X" gives the listener a great idea of just where Tribal Tech is in 2012, as Henderson's searing whammy bar theatrics lead in this metallic groover, which is chock full of guitar mayhem, gymnastic rhythms, and spacey keys. "Got Faith 'n' Phat" brings the funk, complete with Kinsey's tasty synth, horn, and clavinet textures, while "Time Lapse" sees Kovington laying down some serious jazz licks over which Henderson can solo like mad, all the while Willis is tearing it up underneath. Look for a tasty electric piano solo from Kinsey as well on this fine tune. Willis' yearning lead bass and Henderson's scorching solos drive the mellow "Anthem", and the emotional "Palm Moon Plaza" takes you back to Jeff Beck's Blow By Blow period, with Willis adding a wonderful solo that would have made the late, great, Jaco Pastorius proud.
If you are in the mood for complex, aggressive fusion, then check out the raging "Gravity", and for some bluesier arrangements, the band throws in "Working Blues", complete with trippy keys from Kinsey and some hot solos courtesy of Henderson and Willis. The band mixes funk with Middle Eastern sounds on the smoldering "Ask Me a Question", and "Let's Get Swung" reminds of the classic Tribal Tech style of the early '90s, a dark, burning number with some swing and scalding solos. "Corn Butter" closes things out in grand funky fashion, as Willis and Kovington lock into a deep groove while Henderson and Kinsey tear it up on guitar & electric piano. Think of Miles Davis' On the Corner period mixed with some of the proggy funk of Germany's Kraan and you have an idea of what to expect on this one.
As someone who has long admired this band but lost touch with them over the years due to their inactivity and questionable last few releases, X is a welcome return to form for Tribal Tech. Does it signal a full-time return for the band? Only time will tell if this is it, or just the beginning of a new era, but either way this is a CD that fusion fans do not want to miss.
1) Mech X
2) Got Faith 'n' Phat
3) Time Lapse
5) Palm Moon Plaza
7) Working Blues
8) Ask Me a Question
9) Let's Get Swung
10) Corn Butter