Joe Satriani’s new solo effort has become his highest-debuting album in two decades, thanks in no small way the Chickenfoot guitarist says to the smart contributions of sideman of Mike Keneally.
Keneally, who came to fame as a guitarist with Frank Zappa, sits in on keyboards for Unstoppable Momentum, which bowed at No. 42 on the Billboard charts. That multi-instrumental versatility is what drew Satriani to Keneally in the first place, he says.
“Mike Keneally was an easy choice,” Satriani says in a new video interview. “He’s brilliant on both guitar and keyboards. Although I hired him primarily for keyboards, I think that when he listens to my demos, he understands me from a guitar player’s point of view — which is really unique. Most keyboard players, they are 100 percent dedicated to one instrument — that’s how they get to be so good. But Mike is really gifted on both.”
Keneally, whose most recent solo project was a collaboration with XTC’s Andy Partridge, memorably arranged guitarist Steve Vai’s music for keyboards on 2004′s Vai: Piano Reductions Vol. 1. He has also played keyboards with outside jazz legends like Wadada Leo Smith and Henry Kaiser.
That ability to improvise outside of expected structures played a key role in Keneally’s seamless transition into Satriani’s musical world.
“He loves the idiosyncrasies of the guitar parts that sometimes I try to celebrate in the compositions,” Satriani enthuses. “He understands that they are important, that they need to be embellished — or supported, let’s say — with some keyboard parts. He’ll relish a simple part, or an impossible part that I’ve thrown at him to balance out some guitar thing. He can improvise like crazy. It’s really great. It wasn’t just copying the demo.”
The crack band on Unstoppable Momentum also features drummer Vinnie Colauita (Jeff Beck, Sting) as well as bassist Chris Chaney of Jane’s Addiction.