(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Ok, so there's a big buzz surrounding this release right now. Hey, they're Gnats that's what they do! I'm just here to say that this disc is every bit as killer as you have heard it is and then some. If you like smokin' fusion you've probably already picked this up so I don't really need to spell it out for you. If you haven't gotten it and/or haven't heard of this band, you might want to pay attention.
Helmet Of Gnats has been around since the 80s and High Street is the band's third CD. You might be thinking, "If they're so good, how come they only have three albums out?" Well, I really can't speak for the band but I think it has something to do with being perfectionists. I say that in the most complimentary way because what they've produced has been nothing short of flawless. Their previous disc, the eponymously titled 2004 album totally knocked me on my feet and was one of my favorites of that year.
The band consists of founding members Chris Fox on guitars and Matt Bocchino on keyboards who have been friends since childhood and the title High Street refers to the place where they grew up. I can't forget the excellent rhythm section of Wayne Zito on bass and Mark Conese on drums who provide a very intense bottom canvas for Chris and Matt to paint on. Mark is also the sound engineer and producer who makes this album sound crisp and full. I'd be hard pressed to find a better sounding recording if I tried.
To describe the style I could throw out names like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return to Forever and the fusion purists who haven't heard this band might put up a fight...until they listen of course. Matt's keyboard work is completely phenomenal. His use of analog synths will definitely take you back a few decades. The guitar work is just as brilliant. The really cool part is how these two just complement each other so well. When so much jazz focuses on the leader first, it's good to hear a band that has a strong input from all the members.
Unlike the previous disc, High Street consists of four longer tracks, the shortest clocking in at over ten minutes. I was glad to see this at first but a bit worried that they might just lose me at times, especially on the half-hour long title track. The good news is that they keep the flow very smooth and the music is always interesting. There is quite a lot of soloing but it never becomes a 'chops fest' and the music retains a very listenable quality throughout the disc.
Lately I've been somewhat at odds with the progressive music community but I think this is a case where I will have to agree with everybody that says this is a superb album. If you're looking for some real classic fusion to stick in your ears I don't think there are many artists out there doing it as good as these guys.