(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
Gosh it's hot. Got up to a hundred or so in these parts over the past week. Summer is indeed a fine time for chillin' music, and Lenny White's somewhat forgotten effort from 1975 is aptly titled for the season in the humid southeastern US. Venusioan Summer was issued on Atlantic subsidiary Nemporer Records, probably to little fanfare, but it was possessed of the fine musicianship one might expect from the Return To Forever drummer. Actually it has several diversions from the standard Mach 10 fusion blasts so common to that era, and its energy is still fresh.
Many people were involved in the making of Venusioan Summerand that enabled a variety of sounds. Aside from the requisite moments of proper 70's fusion (and they are most proper indeed) there are equal nods to progressive rock, electronic and orchestral musics. Science fiction themes are implied in Larry Kresek's cover art (man is this a cool cover or what?) and in the music. "The Venusian Summer Suite" is dedicated to the crew of the Starship Enterprise (I kid you not) and "Prince Of The Sea" is a "story of the young prince becoming Neptune." Gotta be cool, right?
Happily in this case it is. The guest list is impressive and the playing is focused, intense at the appropriate moments, and soothing in others. David Sancious, Hubert Laws, Larry Young (Khalid Yasin), Dennis MacKay, Onaje Allan Gumbs, Raymond Gomez, Doug Rodrigues, Larry Coryell, and "I'm" Al DiMeola all make worthy appearances.
Of particular importance among White's compatriots was one Doug Rauch. As bassist he was White's partner in the rhythm section, and his playing over the course of the album is outstanding. He co wrote the first two pieces, the bizarre funky fusion-rock of "Chicken Fried Steak" and "Away Go Troubles Down The Drain." The former is an oddly lurching way to start an album, but it works, with an appearance on organ by the legendary Jimmy Smith. Rodrigues pitches in with a burnin' little guitar solo. The latter is also deeply funk-inflected and features some wicked low-frequency interplay between White, Rauch and the minimoog of David Sancious; he turns in a wicked but brief solo in the last third of the piece. It "progs" and "grooves" at the same instant, preceding "The Venusian Summer Suite" which is performed in two parts.
"Sirenes" features some delightfully spacey music by the "Brooklyn Syntharmonic Orchestra & Inner-mission Choir Realizations by Patrick Gleeson." White shows his versatility via his performance(s) on minimoog, Eµ synthesizer, ARP 2600, and acoustic piano. The eponymous title-part 2 provides a fine display from all players. Minimoogs are once again all over the place, from Gleeson, Sancious and Peter Robinson, and the sound is fleshed out by Laws' flute.
The second half of the album is heralded by the "improvised percussion over a major orchestral theme" that is "Prelude To Rainbow Delta." It is notable partly because of MacKay's appearance on backward gong, and is only 1:40 long, before fading into the fast-paced, full-on fusion-in-4/4 of "Mating Drive." It's Gomez' turn to burn on the frets, and Young/Khasin on the organ takes a turn in the fusion whirlpool, soloing over Gumbs' delicious electric piano chord patterns. Ah, the 70's . . . . . .
"Prince Of The Sea" is 11:37 long and of course it provides the goods. The beginning sounds like music from an alien planetscape; Gumbs' work is again a graceful mood-setter, in concert with Tom Harrel's flugelhorn. The band eases into the stratosphere, and Coryell takes the solo ante higher with a particularly sharp performance showcasing a more traditional (but well amplified) jazz guitar sound. Gumbs takes a turn in the spotlight, on acoustic and electric pianos, before DiMeola's more modern, sustain-driven soloing answers Coryell. It wouldn't be complete if the two guitar-maestros failed to trade licks, and they do, while White and Rauch increase the intensity.
Indeed it makes quite a finale to a fine showcase of A-list 70's funk-fusion-spaceprog. The starship's guest list in this case enhances the voyage, and Captain White is a gracious and potent musical host.