See, Mr. Garcia not only plays several instruments, but he incorporates a minimum of 10 musical styles on this nine-track CD, often many in one song. There are times this sounds like contemporary jazz a la David Benoit, but then a keyboard riff that sounds like Rick Wakeman of Yes will swoop in, and then some tasty Vai-esque guitar licks, and the listener is left wondering what exactly they're hearing. Unclassifiable music sometimes is the best.
Alternate Realities is basically a one-man instrumental show, but it's far from monotonous or boring. Yet for all its glories, the disc never really adds up to a cohesive whole for some reason; it takes a lot of listens to get the riffs stuck in your head, and the songs never wind through an odyssey the way a true jazz classic should - and this is probably best classified as contemporary jazz, though that's like saying Led Zeppelin should be classified as folk. There were elements of folk, but it was only one part of the overall sound.
Garcia has a jazz musician's ear, meaning the drums rarely rise above time-keeping and the guitar solos, while interesting, never rise above setting the mood for the song. The real star here is the bass guitar; a virtuoso on both stringed instruments, Garcia whips out all sort of fretted and fretless basses of varying strings, making them lead instruments, something few bassists are able to do (Flea and Victor Wooten come to mind). This quality enhances songs such as the title track, which despite itself has a pretty cool riff that brings the alternative underground to mind, such as Pavement and Sebadoh.
Those are not influences on Garcia, though; instead, the jazz and progressive rock sounds are prevalent in his music, making this sound like an amped-up Benoit mixed with 1990s Yes, minus the stupid lyrics. It's the kind of sound that only will appeal to other musicians, but it could work as good background music with its laid back sound for jazz fans who don't care about the rules.
At least for the first part of the CD. "Secret Correspondences" mixes things up with a beautiful piano intro and some great guitar work, while "Materia Prima" has a worldbeat flavor complete with Spanish guitar and flamenco drums; while not particularly original, it's nonetheless fun. Kind of like the whole CD, which makes this a joy, even when the music gets mundane; Garcia obviously enjoys what he does, and as a stylistic chameleon the unpredictability of the tunes is welcome, though it is undercut by the aforementioned rudimentary drumming and jazz feeling that permeates this, never really allowing these tracks to break free and take on a life of their own.
The whole disc has a sort of electronic feel, especially in the drums and Casio-esque keyboards, which works on the jaunty "Three Of A Kind" and the bizarre "The Pleasures of Progress," which sounds like a really bad outtake on Yes' Tormato album. However, "A Place In The Sun" has a laid-back vibe and military-style snare drumming; the two disparate angles work together to make this a solid contemporary jazz tune. The closer "Calculated Risk" is just average.
Where Garcia succeeds is in creating a unique sound somewhere between progressive 90s pop and jazz, but where he fails is distinguishing these tracks from each other. It's worth hearing though, not only for its originality but for the artist's obvious love of what he does and his skill on his many instruments. Just don't be surprised if you don't revisit this very often; it's easy to admire, but difficult to love.
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