While guitarist Scott Henderson has been mining post-Weather Report fusion territory for years with Tribal Tech, he has also been exploring a more blues-based direction with recordings including Dog Party, Tore Down House and, most notably, '02's stripped-down Well to the Bone, one of the most potent examples of the power trio to be released in recent years. So when Henderson and the road-tested Well to the Bone trio settled into their home base, the La Vee Lee jazz club in Los Angeles, it was clear that sparks were going to fly.
And fly they do on Live!, a two-disc set that captures the best moments from these nights, along with one track from a performance in Rome, Italy. The result is nothing short of incendiary; for fans of fusion that leans towards the power blues excursions of Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, and Ritchie Blackmore coupled with a healthy respect for more traditional players including Albert King and Buddy Guy, it doesn't get much better than this.
But what differentiates Henderson from the aforementioned influences is that beneath all his guitar-god posturing, he's got a firm knowledge of jazz harmony that informs and broadens even the most basic hard rock-inflected track. Whereas artists like Jeff Beck have dabbled with jazz but come from a more harmonically-constrained rock vernacular-and Henderson's debt to these artists is clear-it is Henderson's larger frame of reference "growing up influenced in equal parts by Jimi Hall as he was Jim Hendrix " that make the performances on Live! stand out. Much like Robben Ford, another guitarist whose strong jazz background affects his blues-based work without compromising its authenticity, Henderson's wider knowledge simply gives him a larger musical palette, which means that he falls less upon established patterns and, instead, brings a more diverse complexion to the well-heeled power trio format.
The material ranges covers tracks culled from Henderson's three blues-based records, two Tribal Tech tunes ("Slidin" and "Jakarta"), one Vital Tech Tones tune ("Nairobe Express"), and even a Wayne Shorter tune ("Fee Fi Fo Fum"). While the Shorter track could feel out of place in lesser hands, Henderson manages to keep it in context with a solo that, while more restrained than some of his more flamboyant work, still draws upon the same blues-based references, albeit with a more adventurous harmonic reach.
If there's any weakness, it's drummer Kirk Covington's vocals. Like Ford, Covington's vocals aren't bad, but when compared to his powerful and inventive drum work, his singing is capable but undistinguished. Bassist John Humphrey is more of a team player than Tribal Tech's Gary Willis, with a firm sense of groove that meshes well with Covington in maintaining the high energy level that pervades the entire 95 minutes of Live!, an album that further cements Henderson's reputation for seamlessly blending jazz, rock and blues into an exciting amalgam that should have fusion fans gasping for air by the time it's over.