Shortcut To The Center

Jerry Jennings

Independent release, 2005

http://jerryjenningsmusic.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/27/2010

Fusion is one of those terms that gets tossed around so much it seems to lose meaning.  What folks are usually talking about when they use that word is a style of instrumental music that fuses contemporary jazz rhythms and structures with heavier, blues-rock-influenced guitar and organ.  Which makes Sacramento, California guitarist Jerry Jennings’ Shortcut To The Center more or less a prototype for fusion—a superbly well-crafted album that employs jazz-oriented arrangements as a foundation for Jennings’ dynamic and engaging guitar work. 

Originally given a very limited release in 2005 and now thankfully enjoying a full-blown re-release, Shortcut To The Center found Jennings collaborating with guitar legend Ronnie Montrose, who produces and also plays on two tracks.  This is notable not just because Montrose himself authored one of the best fusion guitar albums of all time (1978’s Open Fire), but because the production here supports Jennings’ aims in the best way, delivering a sound that manages to be simultaneously crystal-clear and warm and immediate.  Jennings also receives exceptional support from his backing band of Bruce Spencer (drums), Marty Holland (bass) and Scott Reams (keys), all of whom show terrific chops and the ability to effortlessly adapt to whatever direction Jennings takes the music.

Leadoff cut “Observation” is an entertaining hybrid, a dreamy classic rock number grafted onto a reggae beat, with Jennings soloing up top while the understated funk of the rhythm section keeps your feet tapping.  About three minutes in, Jennings delivers the kind of sunny, lyrical solo that makes vocals feel superfluous.  Before you can catch your breath, sophomore cut “One Blue Lady” piles on with driving fusion with strong blues-funk underpinnings, featuring terrific interplay between Montrose on the left channel and Jennings on the right as they trade solos over a stuttering, insistent beat.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

After a one-two punch of that caliber it’s tempting to say the rest doesn’t matter, but there’s not a wasted moment here.  “Rule 14” follows with a steady mid-tempo blues offering soaring, supremely expressive solos, before giving way to fourth cut “She’s,” a meditative number with delicate, evocative chordings, every note both precise and warm. 

The pace picks up again with “Feeding Time,” another standout track with a snappy, jazzy feel to it.  Reams contributes a rippling organ solo in full Les McCann / Steely Dan mode, bringing the jive—and yet the chorus, if you could call it that, has a distinct fusion feel, finding the elusive sweet spot between Eric Clapton and Wes Montgomery and mining it beautifully.

“Bones” has a George Benson feel; light, clean funk that finds Reams soloing in a contemporary jazz groove while Jennings twists and bends notes in response, rising up to hit some genuine stingers.  The blues take over again for a little “Weather Manipulation,” as a rumbly rhythm section provides a sturdy base for Jennings to solo over, his keening tone clean and pure and right on the money.

Moving into the final trio, “The Next Mile” has a contemporary jazz / light funk feel to it, with great bass work from Holland and sweet, tasteful, finger-snapping, Larry Carlton-ish licks from Jennings, while “Meltdown” offers Reams and Spencer their own chances to shine.  Closer “A Dime For The Phone” has a wonderfully dreamy feel, a little Pink Floyd/David Gilmour flavor in its deliberate rhythms and spooky melancholy.  There’s more nice organ work from Reams as well, and a brief little sax/acoustic guitar vamp on the fadeout that again conjures memories of Dark Side Of The Moon.

Class and skill, flash and subtlety—Shortcut To The Center has everything you could ever wish for from a fusion album. With an assist from Mr. Montrose, Jerry Jennings and band shine brightly here, and you can only hope that this is one sleeper of an album that will sleep no more.

Rating: A

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