You come in expecting modern-day melding of fusion and prog that recalls the 1970s glories of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever and Eleventh House. After all, guitarist Dennis Haklar’s Lizard’s Tale includes guitarist Larry Coryell on all but two tracks — and even makes room for a new take on Coryell’s “Low-Tee-Tah,” originally heard on 1974’s Introducing the Eleventh House..
The surprises, however, are many.
For instance, this group doesn’t simply plug in for another run at “Low-Tee-Tah,” so much as completely rethink almost every element of the muscular jazz rock originally put forth by Eleventh House — and to great effect. After Haklar leaps out for the song’s first solo, offering a series of scalding retorts, Coryell answers … but with a delicately constructed turn on acoustic. Elsewhere, singer K.S. Resmi’s wordless vocals smartly expand upon the tune’s latent Eastern feel, while Thierry Arpino, rather than mimic the thrillingly garrulous cadences of Eleventh House drummer Alphonse Mouzon, remains a steady but more observant presence.
The title track, a collaboration between Coryell and Haklar, finds the pair playing with a riffy symmetry, combining idioms, burning and then flirting and then whispering with a dark symmetry — only to be very nearly upstaged by a understated, yet perfectly attenuated bass solo from Mark Egan. Arpino is drummer for every song that includes one on Lizard’s Tale, while Egan plays bass on all but three — with Matt Everhart filling in for Haklar’s “Angels in Bahia.”
Jon Anderson is included in four of the 11 tracks on Lizard’s Tale, though (in another offbeat choice) his fans should note that the longtime Yes frontman is used as part of the aural ensemble, more than as a featured vocalist. “Leap of Faith” uses Anderson only on the chorus, with Haklar sparking a series of elaborately constructed conversations in between.
Anderson is more prominently featured on the subsequent “Prelude the Dawn,” weaving his voice in and around the song (very much in the style of “We Have Heaven,” from Yes’ career-making album Fragile), even as Haklar and then Coryell deftly tangle and then untangle. The similarly named “Dawn of an Era,” with another quietly effective aside on bass from Egan, finds Anderson taking a back seat to the ongoing conversation, convivial and ever involving, between Haklar and Coryell. Finally, there’s “Crossing Over,” where Anderson’s soaring harmonies are but another ray of sunshine in the ethereal atmosphere.
Elsewhere, Haklar takes a multi-tracked solo turn on the nostalgia-laced “A Message,” while the conga-driven “Bahia” rumbles along with this mysterious complexity. Then Lizard’s Tale concludes with yet another plot twist: This ruminative take on John Coltrane’s “Naima,” with Haklar offering a hushed intensity during his initial solo, only to have Coryell answer in kind — producing not the expected volcanic finale, but this rapturous, uttering fascinating quietude.