Arsenal was a Russian jazz-fusion band led by saxophonist Alexey Kozlov that had a strong following in the late 1970's into the early 1980's. This review covers the first two CD's in a four volume set, recently released to the public in this medium for the first time.
Volume One is an ultra complex collection of smoking jazz that combines the raw energy of fusion with lots of crazy counterpoint found in progressive rock. Imagine a head-on collision between an instrumental Chicago and Gentle Giant, and you kind of get the picture. In their early years Arsenal had a full horn section comprised of trumpet, trombone, and sax, which mingled complex lines with various keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. Some of the unison playing between the horns and the guitar at times is quite astounding. Variety is the key here, as each song reaches to new hights, new arrangements, new levels of complexity, and shifts from symphonic, to jazz, to plain rock. At times I am also reminded of some of the more adventurous tracks from Soft Machine.
Volume Two is pretty much a drastic change to more straightforward fusion territory, similar to Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, with a little National Health thrown in for good measure. With the exception of Kozlov's soaring sax, horns are replaced by loads of various keyboards and synthesizers, which gives the music a much more symphonic tone, yet still retaining much of the complex nature present on the first volume. Acoustic guitar also plays a more prominent role here, equally sharing the space with electric guitars. While this CD is tremendous in its own right, the first one might get a slight nod as it is overall a bit stronger top to bottom, but both are quite excellent.