REVIEW: NOVA COLLECTIVE – “The Further Side”
The late 60’s and early 70’s saw the birth of many of the most innovative, influential and exciting artists, and genres that modern music has ever seen. And one of the most brilliant musical marriages was that of rock and jazz. From Miles Davis’s seminal, genre-defining 1970 album ‘Bitches Brew’ to The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s groundbreaking ‘The Inner Mounting Flame’, jazz fusion set fire to the imagination – and occasionally the fret boards of musicians everywhere – and it’s a genre that’s alive and well to this day. With such a backdrop, a supergroup made up of prog metal musicians have formed Nova Collective, and are set to release their first album ‘The Further Side’ – and it’s an enjoyable listening experience for anyone who enjoys instrumental rock-infused music.
The band is comprised of Dan Briggs (Between the Buried and Me), and Richard Henshall (Haken) on bass and guitar, Matt Lynch (Trioscapes) on the drums, and Pete Jones (ex- Haken) on keyboards. This lineup alone had scores of prog-metal fans drooling over their keyboards before the band released a single note of music to the public. All the above bands are known for their highly complex, tight, and intricate music, and the individual playing abilities of their musicians. So with such a lineup playing prog-tinged jazz fusion, there was a lot of hype and high expectations for a high-energy, exciting album with stellar playing. The only question that remains is – does the album live up to the expectations? The short answer is, YES. The music is certainly high-energy, and the playing is what anyone would expect from such a lineup. As for being exciting; the answer is in part yes, and in part only sort of, but more on that later.
‘The Further Side’ wastes no time, but jumps right in with the blistering “Dancing Machine” a piece which after the last album I reviewed was a breath of fresh air. It’s classic fusion, the music lines move in between each other like a Russian ballet troupe, and Brigg’s fat bass lines bounce with an almost wild abandon. In some ways I feel this style fits his playing even more than with his main band because it allows him such freedom to breathe and move, and he interplays perfectly with Lynch who balances his drumming with aggressive borderline metal moments, with the more subtle and light touch that good jazz requires. They follow up this song with the fairly brief (by jazz or prog standards) “Cascades” and “Air” before digging into the meat of the longer and more aggressive “State of Flux” which puts everyone through their paces, and will be sure to please fans with more of a metal than fusion taste in music. Henshall’s alternately crunchy, and delicate guitar work especially shines here. And Jones channels his inner Chick Corea throughout and his key work holds everything together, not only on this song, but the album as a whole. The album is a fairly brief work, just over 47 minutes, and it’s over before you wish it was.
From my initial listen, to the most recent, what has stood out to me the most was the classic 70’s fusion sound throughout. Guitar legend John (Mahavishnu) McLaughlin’s influence is especially apparent, not only in the guitar work, but the composition style as a whole. And that is what led to my previous “sort of” answer to the excitement level of the album question. The music is great, and the playing is flawless, but any fan of jazz fusion has heard all this before. And that’s my main complaint; it’s a safe album, and for a genre that prides itself on originality, and daring it falls short of doing anything that’s very new. Yes it has a “proggier” and heavier feel, than much of the classic fusion the band so obviously loves, but in a jazz fusion world where John Zorn, John Medeski, and Marc Ribot are running amuck you need a lot more than that to sound fresh. Of course that may not have been their intent, and they instead wanted to have some fun by putting out a respectful nod to fusion legends of the past while adding some of their own spin; in which case the album is a great success.
Nova Collective have put out an exhilarating, and engaging album of progressive infused jazz fusion. And ‘The Further Side’ is a work that is sure to please fans of any of the member’s primary bands, and most prog fans in general. Fans of jazz fusion will certainly appreciate the musicianship, and complexity of the compositions but will most likely be disappointed by the familiarity of the music, and the lack of anything really new or unexpected. For that reason, I’d recommend it more for fans of modern prog metal, and as such it should serve as an introduction to the world of jazz fusion, and the past which inspired so much of the music we love. Just be sure to do yourself a favor and check the classics out.