By: Dennis Cook
They come on like some thick aphrodisiac, Hansford Rowe's bass seeping into your crevices and warming your cockles, putting the "skinny in your dip," while the guitars of Bon Lozaga and Jameison Ledonio run their fingers through your hair and massage your back. Fragrant as fresh pines and slippery as an oiled eel, this is a new Gongzilla. While their DNA includes some of the finest progressive rock and jazz-fusion of the last quarter century, this luxuriously philosophical slab hops and skips with a bubbling energy unlike anything in their past.
Opener "Say Hey" is summer sex distilled into one very slinky tune, the vocals moving with a gravely Lou Reed-y charm. It's followed by the playful, sophisticated "French Grass," which conjures both the heady fingerpicking of bluegrass and a certain sativa state, Lozaga's acoustic lightning dueling nicely with some chunky slide electric from moe's Chuck Garvey, who sticks around for "Willy," a slow boiler that builds to a neat sing-along ditty worthy of Phish at their brainy, fun best. By moving beyond their largely instrumental past, Gonzilla has loosened up oodles of creative energy and offered a number of new points of entry, especially to jam scene faithful seeking a new band full of smarts, wicked chops and a great deal of fine energy.
Much like the aesthetic hurdle that King Crimson took between Red and Discipline, Gongzilla cranks with real gusto here. Nothing has been lost technically but whole vistas have opened up aurally and mentally. One senses throughout a profound "joie de vivre," the boys engaged on all levels, testing their own preconceptions about what they can do. You hear this exploratory core in the lightly toasted unpredictability of "So High," where they exude delighted freedom, craftsmen freed from old blueprints, colored charcoal in hand as they work a broad, blank canvas. Like moe, their friends in the jam scene, Gongzilla are musician's musicians who've managed to make freaky fine music for the masses. And they're joined on Five Even (Lolo Records) by a cadre of phenomenal players including guitar ninja David Fiuczynski, Umphrey's Jake Cinninger, fretless wonder Kai Eckhardt and mandolinist-singer Todd Barneson. But, it's the purposeful clarity and imagination of the core Zilla – Rowe, Ledonio, Lozaga and Phil Kester (drums, marimba, percussion) – that really shines here. With a little help from well-picked friends, Gongzilla has crafted something quite tasty that honors the jam spirit and bridges the gaps between straight fusion, classic rock and what the Dead/Phish/Allmans have wrought.
JamBase | Wide Open
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