Volto! – Incitare (2013)

Volto! came together like most side projects, by happenstance, and without any commercial considerations. Just for the pure fun of friends getting together and playing music outside their day job…err…gig. The bass player’s day gig is as Don Henley’s touring and session band. The guitarist’s main project is with Pigmy Love Circus. And the drummer makes his living playing in the multi-platinum selling band Tool. But when Lance Morrison, John Ziegler and Danny Carey got together to play some low key gigs in some small dive jazz joint in the LA area, they just wanted to knock around old tunes by Jeff Beck, Weather Report, Tony Williams and the like.

After a while, the ambitions grew to writing and performing originals, and you know what usually follows: that’s right, a record. Signed to Concord’s Fantasy label (home of John Fogerty, Joe Walsh and Sylvester), the performances were captured live in Tool’s rehearsal loft. Jeff Babko of Jimmy Kimmel’s house band and a significant leader in his own right within the rock-jazz arena filled in the fluid keyboard position for these sessions.

The product, Incitare, is meat-and-potatoes rock-jazz, the kind of music that rocks too hard to really be jazz and too knotty in its arrangements to fully be called rock. The no-nonsense attack they employ makes no concessions to the current trends and if anything, it often sounds like 1976. Indeed, the opener “BHP” could have qualified as a leftover track from Jeff Beck’s Wired or in spots, even Rush’s Hemispheres, as Babko’s oscillating electric piano contrasts with Ziegler’s shimmering arpeggios and a classic, clean metal guitar tone close to that of Steve Lukather’s. Carey gets a thunderous solo turn on the drums leading up to the last chorus to cap the fireworks.

Like that leadoff tune, “Grillz” is sweet democracy in action with Ziegler flashing that beautiful tone, Babko uncorking a Jan Hammer-like synth solo and Carey busily shuffling underneath the whole time. Jazz principles come into play in a way that wouldn’t scare off rocks fans: “So What” changes can be found in the bridge of “Grip It” against a furious 6/8 tempo on which Ziegler delivers a forceful solo with plenty of rangy support from Morrison. “Quirk,” which also uses modal principles in the bridge, has a slaying bass/drums groove you don’t hear that much anymore, and both Ziegler and Babko deliver scorching solos. Ziegler also pairs with Babko’s Rhodes for inspired unison runs. “I’m Calm Now” is in fact, calmer than the other cuts, and it’s also more soulful and melodic. Ziegler exploits the vibe to show off his skill at putting together emotion-packed phrasing. “Meltdown” is their side trip into avant garde, a bunch of atonal electronic noises against backdrop of Carey’s tom toms.

Not too hard, not too soft…but consistently energetic, accomplished for a “live in the studio” recording, and bristling with nice harmonies. Incitare doesn’t seek to blaze new trails in fusion but sticks to the original principles of the part-time band: to let loose on some more challenging material and to have some fun doing it. That in turn makes it fun to listen to as well.

Incitare goes on sale July 23 via Fantasy Records. Visit Volto’s website for more info.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is a CPA and mid-level data analyst for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.