Time Crunch

Niacin

Magna Carta Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/22/2002

It's interesting that Niacin - the prog-jazz combo of bassist Billy Sheehan, keyboardist John Novello and drummer Dennis Chambers - chose to name their latest effort Time Crunch. The key word here is "time" - as in, how much you'll have to invest in order to fully comprehend this disc.

Undoubtedly the most challenging of Niacin's works so far, the trio seems to want to kick things into overdrive in the fusion department, doing their best to try avenues they may not have previously explored together. While their exuberance is to be applauded, it does result in a disc that is sometimes very difficult to listen to, simply because it's hard for the listener to follow.

Admittedly, things get off to a strong start with "Elbow Grease" and "Time Crunch," two tracks which leave no doubt to the musical mastery that each man has on their respective musical instrument. Sheehan and Novello both create musical lines which sometimes sound like they could have been pulled out of a Les Paul - but no six-stringers are to be found anywhere on this disc. As for Chambers, while he gets his chances in the spotlight from time to time on this disc, his solid rhythmic backbone is what keeps driving the music forward.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Here is where things get complicated. Many of the tracks on Time Crunch seem to get bogged down in the attempts of Niacin to push the music forward. One example is the track "Stone Face," which starts off strongly, laying down a particularly tasty funk groove. But the sudden shift to a more introspective sound at the midpoint, highlighted by a Sheehan bass solo which almost sounds like the instrument is weeping, takes the momentum and slams on the brakes - and even a return to the funkier rhythm isn't enough to get this one out of its tailspin. (Worthy of mention, though, is the fact that Novello utilized more than his trademark Hammond B-3, especially on this track - and, with no offense meant to Novello, the variation in keyboards is a welcome addition.)

Mind you, I don't have a problem with being challenged as a listener; if I were, I'd never listen to jazz, choosing instead to review only the latest albums from Barney or Teletubbies. And I'm definitely not saying that Niacin should try to play it safe with their music; having had the privilege of seeing them live, I know just how good it can feel when this band pushes the envelope musically. Yet sometimes it does feel like after the one-two punch of "Stone Face" and their cover of King Crimson's "Red," the wind is knocked out of Niacin's sails, and the bulk of Time Crunch features the group merely coasting along. Oh, sure, a track like "Glow" is pretty enough, and both "Damaged Goods" and "Daddy Long Leg" have their moments, but the music is not quite as dynamic as one would have expected, especially judging from the first 20 minutes.

The choice of cover tunes is interesting. "Red" is one that may surprise people (except for the die-hard King Crimson fans), and is admittedly challenging, though it proves to be worth it. But it is the cover of Jeff Beck's "Blue Wind" (originally on Beck's 1976 album Wired) that is awe-inspiring. Niacin take a song which, to be honest, I never found to be that interesting, and they give it a new lease on life. Could it be that Niacin is achieving what Beck tried to do, both with his solo albums and with Jan Hammer - albeit without the presence of a guitar?

Time Crunch is still a disc I'm glad I listened to, even though I had to sit through about five spins just to sort everything out in my head. One has to wonder if the casual listener will be willing to do that - or if they'll simply wonder if their watch stopped while listening to this disc.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magna Carta Records, and is used for informational purposes only.