Jazz fusion, long since passed its commercial heyday, remains a viable genre vehicle for many top flight musicians. South American born drummer and percussion Alfredo Dias Gomes has logged time and miles with various bands during his career before embarking on a series of solo albums that mine the deep, challenging tradition of fusion in a way few modern artists do. His sixth solo album, Pulse, is a ten track release including two originals from Gomes’ fertile musical imagination and a remaining eight contributions from a variety of sources both famous and more obscure. Despite the daunting reputation of complexity for the form, these aren’t instrumentals designed to appeal to a narrow group of listeners. Instead, the ten tracks bubble over with melody, effervescent textures, and features a variety of instruments deployed in recognizable and crowd-pleasing ways.
The opening one two punch of “The Other Side” and “The Funk Waltz” are a knockout blow to begin things. The band has an easy going interplay with instruments firing back and forth over Gomes’ snake-like patterns and the swing he achieves, particularly on the second track, has a natural ease that sounds like Gomes was born to play this material. His partner in the rhythm section, bassist Marco Bombom, provides unobtrusive but weighty counterpoint and his turn on the latter track is particularly important to pulling off the song’s demands. Larry Coryell’s “Low-Lee-Tah” bubbles thanks to its percolating rhythm section and the band’s transitions from one section to another are well handled. The individual parts seem to lock in tighter and tighter as the song progresses and it leads to a hard hitting climax. “Yin” is, perhaps, the fiercest musical performance on Pulse. It has that sort of swagger from the outset, but the band does a memorable job of building on the opening’s tangible intensity from Gomes’ introductory battery of drum fire all of the way to the guitar pyrotechnics lighting up the song’s second half.
“Level One” is one of the album’s tightest arrangements and the musicians carry off another Larry Coryell composition with every bit of the skill and imagination that it demands. This is one of the album’s most uplifting pieces of music and the players’ trade off lines without any ego – everything here is geared towards bringing off the best possible performance. “Adam Smasher” has another Gomes drum intro before sliding headlong into one of the most comfortable grooves on Pulse. Gomes’ playing has an understated musical primacy on this work and “Adam Smasher” becomes a final showcase for his intensely rhythmic style and ability to team with an able bassist. The first of Gomes’ two songs on the album, “Seven”, opens with a quasi-boogie simmer before expanding into a much wider melodic range. The saxophone line has an intensely vocal quality and the guitar work responds with great taste and imagination. Marco Bombom’s bass playing once again proves to be key, however, to pulling off the groove alongside Gomes. Yuval Ben Lior’s guitar solo in the song’s second half is bluesy without being clichéd and has a lot of fire. The concluding song, “Pulse”, embodies all of the percussion ideals driving the preceding songs. It’s definitely one of the drummer’s most inspired performances and proves a lot of fun to listen to despite its sometimes challenging structure. The album, as a whole, is a showcase for all sorts of instrumental excellence, but these are solid songs and never mere vehicles for the musicians to show off. Alfredo Dias Gomes proves with this album that he’s one of the best band leaders today carrying forth the tradition first established during the 1970’s.
9 out of 10 stars.