Spectrum Road is a jazz-rock supergroup featuring bassist Jack Bruce, guitarist Vernon Reid, drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana, and organist John Medeski that formed as a tribute to the inspiration and music of Tony Williams' pioneering Lifetime group (of which Bruce was a member). In the process of playing Lifetime's music as a project, they became a bona fide band. All but two of these cuts are from Lifetime's catalog. The set begins with the scorcher "Vuelta Abajo," from 1970's Turn It Over album. All four members come storming out of the gate on a syncopated, intense series of riffs and stops. Blackman-Santana, a Williams disciple, plays furiously with countless rolls and fills yet never drops her sense of groove. She pushes hard at Bruce's bassline while Medeski washes it all with a counter pulse and Reid takes it over into the red zone. This is excess at its level best. The hippest thing is that not only does Bruce keep that insane pace, he revels in it and works with Blackman-Santana to keep the groove funky and weird. She takes the vocal on the spacey, 12-minute "Where," which builds via her rolls and Medeski's abstract painterly touches into a true freewheeling jam with Reid and Bruce going head to head. The group interplay on "Vashkar" (written by Carla Bley, and originally appeared on 1969's Emergency) is a manic showcase for Medeski and Reid, but it's the rhythm section that keeps moving the track further onto the ledge. Spectrum Road honors Williams' example by taking real chances with his music. The way they break down "There Comes a Time" ( from 1971's Ego) with Bruce's bluesy vocals holding the ground firm under the band's improvising moves it from a somewhat staid open modal blues into something more textured, aggressive, and expansive. Reid's jazz chops on "Coming Back Home" walk a line between swing and Hendrixian blues, as Medeski swells and feeds his every line. Reid's and Blackman-Santana's rock strut on "Wild Life" would be nearly processional were it not for Bruce's and Medeski's deeply funky undercurrent. Spectrum Road's self-titled debut delivers in full on the supergroup promise; in addition, they provide the kind of forward-looking tribute that a pioneer like Williams truly deserves. ~ Thom Jurek
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