Mike Varney has an interesting history. A compeer of the famed Metal Blade label, which produced a ton of metalline crap alongside some very good materials, his Shrapnel was at first similarly fated. Like Grudge, New Renaissance, and a boatload of kitchen table DIY outfits, Shrapnel pooted out more than its fair share of yawners and regurgitatios, but Varney proved a die-hard, an intrepid axemaster in his own right, and an entrepreneur who has since more than proved his worth. This soul-pleasing GHS shred fest is evidence of just how far he and his labels have come, including the Tone Center offshoot.
Frank Gambale has likewise plowed through his paces and more than one of his ventures showed to be so sterile that some critics (like, um, me) panned it from here to Pluto and back again. However, his abilities were never in question, and the guy gradually became a guitarist of choice for such powerhouses as Chick Corea and others. With the GHS catalogue (three releases so far, starting in 1998), he's only gotten better and better, a gunslinger who can induce panic in lesser players with the merest casual glance.
Steve Smith has always been a great drummer, from his days with Journey, through the yet-breathing Vital Information—exhaling fire, actually, when it comes to that—to the GHS ensemble. Some players just increase skill as they mature; Smith's one of 'em. As is Stu Hamm, who has topped polls as a bassist and sat in with the mighty. Here, he's a bit of a second fiddle, but, oh, what a great sophomore seat it is! When he breaks loose, however, get out of the way or get burned. Those fingers trace patterns faster than a computer relays commands or a brain issues impulses.
The GHS band is sophisticated to a fare-thee-well, and the selections here are, short solos to the side, spread evenly across the trio of releases. Like the old monstrously good Guitar On The Edge recordings, some of the absolute best tech documents ever (which Varney produced during his time at the hallowed Guitar Player mag), each cut is a masterpiece of engineering and execution inditing all and sundry in a product Mother would be proud of. To detail any one of them would be useless, as all share the same virtues; thus, if topflight musicianship and sterling recordings are your thing, and fusion rockjazz sits in the cream of your preferences, this is what you've been looking for.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles