‘Intense music being played by very cool people': Billy Sherwood takes us inside The Fusion Syndicate

The forthcoming Fusion Syndicate finds Yes alum Billy Sherwood exploring his lesser-known passion for free-form instrumental sounds associated with Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever.

As with his recent Prog Collective album, also for the Cleopatra family of labels, the seven-track Fusion Collective features guest-packed personnel groupings — including Larry Coryell and Randy Brecker, as well as members and former members of Mahavishnu (Billy Cobham, Jerry Goodman), the Yellowjackets (Jimmy Haslip), Spyro Gyra (Jay Beckenstein) and Chick Corea’s Elektric Band (Eric Marienthal), among others.

That who’s-who list of jazz stars is indicative of just how far Sherwood gets outside of his expected prog-rock comfort zone with the all-original The Fusion Syndicate, due October 16, 2012 from Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra.

[STREAM A SONG HERE!: Click here to stream “Stone Cold Infusion,” from the Fusion Syndicate featuring Billy Cobham, Steve Stevens, Jordan Rudess and Mel Collins.]

Of course, fans of Sherwood’s work with Yes will note that there are plenty of big prog names involved, too — a tribute, Sherwood says, to the essential similarities in those musical styles. The Fusion Syndicate also includes Steve Hillage and Chad Wackerman, as well as members and former members of Yes (Rick Wakeman, Tony Kaye), Soft Machine (John Etheridge, Percy Jones), Porcupine Tree (Colin Edwin, Gavin Harrison), King Crimson (Mel Collins) and Dream Theater (Jordan Rudess, Derek Sherinian), and others.

Together, they’ve constructed an album quite unlike any ever associated with Sherwood.

“I’ve never made a fusion record before,” Sherwood tells us. “It’s always something with vocals. But to me, it’s not that much father down the road from prog. It’s the same thing sideways, with the difference being that the melodies go to instruments instead of vocals. But it has the same interesting arrangements, and progressive time signatures.”

Sherwood says Cleopatra Records founder Brian Perera approached him about this new fusion project, just after the completion of the recent Prog Collective album — and he quickly warmed to the offbeat suggestion.

“We delivered the record, and before I could leave the building, he said how about we do this with fusion and call it the Fusion Collective?” Sherwood says. “I thought: ‘Man, that would be fun.’ I’m fortunate enough to come up with things in my mind that sound like something (former Genesis and Brand X drummer) Chester Thompson would play and, lo and behold, he’s actually going to play on it. That’s really cool, to be able to envision something like that and be able to pull it off. It’s a fusion fantasy, for me.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: 1997’s often-overlooked ‘Open Your Eyes’ connects Trevor Rabin’s hitmaking era with the quirk-filled, Britpop-flavored recordings from Yes’ initial incarnation.]

Up next for Sherwood — who, aside from his 1990s-era tenure in Yes, has also worked with Toto, Paul Rodgers and John Wetton of King Crimson, UK and Asia fame — is a return to his rock roots on a new solo album called The Art of Survival, the follow up to 2011’s What Was The Question? But in the meantime, Sherwood says he’s thoroughly enjoyed this fusion detour, one that — who knows? — might open up the door to even more surprising projects.

“It’s obviously all instrumental, and a different kind of a thing than prog, but it’s still in the same genre of intense music being played by very cool people,” Sherwood tells us. “I think we might be creating, for lack of a better word, sort of a franchise based around this idea of a progressive and fusion collective. Who knows? Maybe I’ll do a country collective?,” he added, laughing.

Click here to purchase …
Fusion Syndicate feat. Rick Wakeman, Billy Sherwood, Billy Cobham, Steve Morse, et al.What Was the Question?House of Yes: Live From the House of BluesThe Prog Collective

Here’s the complete track listing and personnel line up for ‘The Fusion Syndicate':
1. Random Acts Of Science – Rick Wakeman (Yes) • Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra) • Nik Turner (Hawkwind) • Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets / Alan Holdsworth)
2. Stone Cold Infusion – Steve Stevens • Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater / Liquid Tension Experiment) • Mel Collins (King Crimson) • Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree) • Billy Cobham (Mahavishnu Orchestra)
3. Molecular Breakdown – Jay Beckenstein (Spyro Gyra) • Billy Sheehan (Steve Vai) • Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) • David Sancious (The E Street Band)
4. Particle Accelerations – Larry Coryell • Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater / Black Country Communion) • Eric Marienthal (Chick Corea Elektric Band) • Chester Thompson (Genesis / Brand X)
5. At The Edge Of The Middle – Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs) • Jim Beard (Mahavishnu Orchestra) • Randy Brecker (Blood, Sweat & Tears) • Percy Jones (Soft Machine / Brand X)
6. Atom Smashing – John Etheridge (Soft Machine) • Tony Kaye (Yes) • Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa)
7. In The Spirit Of… – Steve Hillage (Gong) • Scott Kinsey (Tribal Tech) • Theo Travis (Steven Wilson Band) • Justin Chancellor (Tool) • Asaf Sirkis (The Orient House Ensemble)

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.