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The Graham Album Review #2087

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One Earth Alliance: Meltdown
by George Graham

(Maginus Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/6/2021)

The jam band scene has opened the doors to a bunch of electric instrumental music, running from progressive rock to funk. Outside of the jazz and fusion scenes, non-vocal music has been pretty scarce. But in recent years, the number of interesting such recordings has been keeping a fairly good pace. On this review series, we recently took up recordings by Michael Whalen, Lyle Workman, DiCosimo-Pagan and Sons of the Golden West to name a few. And there was the recent all instrumental album by Umphrey’s McGee.

This week, we have another interesting, hard to categorize electric instrumental recording, this one by a San Francisco area group called One Earth Alliance, an album called Meltdown.

One Earth Alliance is project headed by guitarist Phil Lewis, not to be confused with the British metal guitarist by the same name, and his musical partner and wife keyboardist Catherine Goldwyn. The two wrote most of the material. The other personnel varies somewhat, with Sean Hurley and Chris Bastian alternating on bass, drummer Jake Reed, and Aaron Serfaty on percussion, with occasional appearances by jazz keyboard player and composer Kait Dunton, and by trumpeter Aaron Janik, who usually plays a heavily processed trumpet with a wah wah sound, reminiscent of what Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers did in the 1970s. One Earth Alliance’s music is a kind of spacey funk, with a strong groove and some sonic and musical colors that range from edgy to bluesy. There is a distinctive retro quality especially to the keyboard sounds, with the kind of synthesizers that recall the fusion and art rock of the 1970s. The funk grooves are a little more contemporary, with some of them based on computer sequences, but the rhythmic lines don’t go as far as hip hop. Occasionally, the music can take on a cinematic quality – one can imagine this music playing as perhaps part of an action film. One Earth Alliance is not strong on memorable melodies, but the rhythmic grooves and sonic textures usually make it interesting.

The album opens with its title track Meltdown, which seems well-named. Like a lot of the album, the piece has a vaguely ominous quality. <<>> Aaron Janik’s mutant trumpet is featured prominently. <<>>

A Fish Called Dharma features more of a funk groove. Kait Dunton appears on additional keyboards. <<>>

The Third Element has a somewhat more exotic sound, and with the creative use of retro sonic textures, it is for me, one of the standout tracks on the album. <<>>

With an edgier sound is a piece called The Fall of Phaeton, with a stronger rock beat and some quirky synthesizer sounds. <<>>

Another of the album’s highlights of Of Mice and Men and Mice, with a more traditional funk beat to which the band adds some interesting touches. <<>>

The band gets decidedly un-mellow on the track called The Naysayer with its angular, unsettling sound. But it has its moments, with some clever musical transitions. <<>>

Last Flight of the Monarch is the closest thing to a slow ballad the album has. There are some jazzy moments, including a piano solo, which is presumably by guest keyboardist Kait Dunton. <<>>

The album goes out with Old Man Touchy, which is as close as this album’s sonic and rhythmic mix comes to sounding a bit clumsy. <<>>

Meltdown the new album by the project called One Earth Alliance co-led by the husband-wife team of guitarist Phil Lewis and keyboard player Catherine Goldwyn, is an intriguing instrumental recording with the emphasis on the rhythmic grooves and retro sonic textures, from vintage synthesizer sounds to wah-wah trumpet. The compositions are more like riffs and improvisations in the context of the groove, rather than emphasizing melody. The upbeat, diving nature of the music pulls in the listener, rather than being something to chill out to. It’s easy to imagine this as music to go with some kind of action film.

Our grade for sound quality is about a “B.” There are some interesting aspects to the mix, which also helps to bring out the retro quality of the music. But the sound, like so many records these days is heavily compressed, to the point that there is a loss of clarity and some distortion.

Meltdown is a kind of melting pot of sounds, some more artistically successful than others, but almost always showing creativity and cleverness.

(c) Copyright 2021 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated October 10, 2021