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Side Steps: Alive II

Chops roll off the proverbial conveyor belt on Side Steps' Alive II, the sequel to the quartet's '90s live shot. Early Side Steps albums tend to sound like exercises in technique and come off a bit cold in the area of actual writing. With the last studio album Verge Of Reality, that issue was finally rectified, and the compositions no longer sacrificed meat for milk. Guitarist Atsunobu Tamura, keyboardist Hiroaki Itoh, 6-string bassist Koichi Iwai and drummer Ichiro Fukawa continue to infuse a playfulness into the intensity of their music to achieve a certain balance. Still, this is Side Steps and shredding is the order of the day!

Recorded live on three different dates in 2006 and 2007 at the famous Silver Elephant, Alive II wastes no time with bar after bar of blistering playing on the cleverly titled "Rainbow Chase." Aside from "Moon Over The Road" and "Meiji Street," all the tracks run over seven minutes and the final two are the lengthiest between eleven and twelve minutes, not quite epics but not necessarily more texturally varied than their predecessors. "Moon..." is metal-lic in its spirit and energy, a spectacular display of groove and melody colliding at intervals. "Another Encounter" and "Jazz It" each open on a quieter note (no pun intended) but things return to a temperature-controlled fury in no time. Iwai's fret-crimping bass acrobatics are guilty of constant "attention theft" in an ongoing tri-angled tug of war with Tamura's and Itoh's chord progressions, solos and textures. In fact, it's almost boggling how it all comes together since the proceedings are usually so busy. A pretty tight analogy is to just picture each player as an arachnid spinning a web of sound on his instrument: what's similar in appearance and sonic texture won't appear so under closer study.

Tamura tears the audience a new orifice with a short yet raucous guitar solo for the opening of an aptly-titled "Blowout." Itoh quickly follows suit a minor gripe: the patch he solos on is a little too "twee" in the upper octaves of a five-octave keytar (portable keyboard). Itoh seems to favor digital Korgy-y patches on all the Side Steps albums, anyway; for analog emulations, look elsewhere. After Itoh, Iwai plows his own nimble-fingered patchwork of notes. field. More breakneck soloing ensues and like too many chocolate desserts, your sweet tooth will either relish it or reach satiety early on. "The End Of Tears" sports a most subdued opening with an e-piano solo joined by an accompaniment on bass; a full band flourish detours to the intimacy of piano, cleanly-picked guitar and pared-down drumming. The second two-thirds engage a variation-on-a-theme scheme hinged on Tamura's guitar skillfully executed but a bit "samey." Less of an emphasis on the methodical might make the band's brand of fusion even more palatable.

For unadulterated electric jazz-fusion that eschews the quirk factor and remains strictly electric and channels the likes of Chick Corea's Elektric Band, Brand X and Vital Information Side Steps might be poised for Kenso-like regard.


1. Rainbow Chase 7:18
2. Moon Over The Road 4:59
3. Meiji Street 6:30
4. Another Encounter 9:16
5. Jazz It 9:34
6. Yellow Moon 8:16
7. The End Of Tears 11:34
8. Blowout 11:40

Total time 69:13

Added: February 4th 2008
Reviewer: Elias Granillo
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Hits: 4420
Language: english

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