It would be tempting to call this jazz fusion, or jazz rock. Or jazz something. But there’s so very much more going on, as Yes alum Trevor Rabin hurtles through Jacaranda, due May 8, 2012 from Varese Vintage Records.
First, there are no small amount of prog-like compositional twists and turns here — which might come as something of shocker, despite Rabin’s association beginning on 1983′s multi-platinum 90125 with one of the genre’s signature acts. After all, Rabin was the chief architect of Yes’ move into the pop-music mainstream back then.
Still, the broader intrigue comes with the way Rabin infuses Jacaranda, his first solo recording since 1989′s Can’t Look Away, not with Yes-isms but with so much Americana — and that he does it very nearly all alone. Save for some guests on drums — including Vinnie Colaiuta (Sting, Frank Zappa), Lou Molino III (a longtime Rabin sideman), and Trevor’s son Ryan — Rabin plays most all of the instruments here. He also composed, produced and arranged Jacaranda.
The truth is, he needed a frisky sense of musical ambition to keep this project from becoming too insular, and Rabin delivers — using a particular passion for the dirt-road sounds of the dobro (so far away from his metallic, very modern guitar work on Yes tracks like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “State of Play”) to turn even moments that at first have more conventional prog rock markings into rootsy explorations. For instance, the episodic “Anerley Road,” featuring special-guest bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, swings with the echoing, pre-Beatles verve of Les Paul at one turn, then descends with a brisk certainty into this deeply involving hillbilly twilight, only to swerve again into a soaring jazz crescendo.
Rabin’s galloping, if brief opening track, “Spider Boogie,” sounds like an underwater Delta blues. “Market Street” (with Colaiuta) then comes rippling out like an ear-melting 1970s-era jazz rock project. “The Branch Office” (with Ryan Rabin) moves with such a quick-witted propulsion that it feels at times like a classic country 33 rpm inadvertently set to 45, while “Storks Bill Geranium Waltz” combines the old-world stoicism of Steve Howe with the loose verve of Wes Montgomery. Then, there’s “Gazania,” which closes Jacaranda with a bluegrassy turn played over a billowing classically inspired song structure.
That eclectic texturing ensures that — unlike some of his more recent film work — Jacaranda doesn’t become incidental music, meant to be felt in the background but not necessarily listened to. Rabin’s new album demands your attention — confounding expectations, again and again.
In fact, the galvanic, multi-layered “Through the Tunnel” (also with Colaiuta) — and perhaps “Me and My Boy,” the album’s best showcase of his collaborative work with Ryan — are the only tracks that, to my ear, overtly reference Rabin’s work with Yes. More often, Jacaranda brilliantly combines the cinematic feel of the soundtrack recordings that Rabin has focused on since leaving the band after 1994′s Talk with a series of fresh flourishes. The results are both involving and surprising.