|'Fusion' may have six characters, but to many, it's still a four letter word. But there is hope. The incredible success of The Dave Matthews Band, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones and renewed interest in classic acts such as Weather Report and The Headhunters provide evidence that the much-maligned genre is enjoying its most positive profile in years. Whether it's only a temporary revival remains to be seen, but this turning of the musical tide stands to benefit Richman in his quest to reinvigorate the genre. Along with his three piece band and guest keyboardist T. Lavitz, Sand Dance strikes a fun balance between furious licks and well-crafted compositions that generally steer clear of the dank wank zone. It also combines contemporary jazz leanings with a healthy dose of improvisation. The result is an ear-pleasing collection that manages to be hummable and possess a bit of an edge. It's worth noting that Richman's voluminous studio credits include a current stint as guitarist for the televised grunt-fest known as America's Funniest Home Videos. That the show is a heinous transgression of good taste is unquestionable. But ya gotta pay the bills to get your thrills. Sand Dance weighs in on the latter end of the scale.
Something about Jeff Richman's sound tips you off to the fact that he's an L.A. guitarist. The compressed, reverb-soaked clean tone, braised with enough modulating delay to sufficiently fatten his single coils; the articulate high-gain roar that suggests Steve Lukather more than Gary Moore--it's the City of Angels sound.
The sheen is only skin deep, however. "Bamboo Man" and the Police-inspired "Bohemia" showcase his rev-it-up-and-go approach to soloing. No comp tracks here--these sound like real, honest-to-God, spur-of-the-moment improvisations. And dig "Ain't Gonna Wait," a paen to Miles Davis' late period records, such as Tutu. Over the song's slow funk grrove, Richman judiciously uses a wah to squeeze out his chords and contour the song's melody. Here, too, Richman's causual manner gives the track an earthly feel.
Richman's original compositions make up most of San Dance, and his tunes are certainly, well, tuneful. But one of the album's nicest cuts is a gorgeous cover of "One Hand, One Heart" (from West Side Story). Richman prudently powers the melody with slides and double-stops, lending a down-home quality to his reading of the piece. Behind the melody, Dean Taba's bass line and Richman's over-dubbed chords fill up the track like a small orchestra. Lush stuff.
The rest of the album is composed of odd rockers ("Stink Eye"), trippy ballads ("2025"), and other fusionly music. Richman's skewed guitar playing is the focal point most of the time, though he gives his imaginative bandmembers ample elbow room to show off their stuff. A fairly exciting listen, all the way around.