Volto! – Incitare

Volto! - Incitare

Though their name might not be familiar to many progressive rock fans, Volto! have been around since the start of the new century. Formed by drummer extraordinaire Danny Carey (of Tool fame) together with guitarist John Ziegler,  his former bandmate in Pigmy Love Circus, and session bassist Lance Morrison (who is also a member of Don Henley’s touring band), they started out as a cover band, playing live in the Los Angeles area whenever it was possible for them to get together. A few years later, they ventured into writing and performing  their own material. The next logical step was to head into Carey’s home studio to record their debut album, enlisting the services of veteran session keyboardist Jeff Babko and engineer Joe Barresi (who worked on Tool’s most recent album, 10,000 Days). Incitare was released in August 2013, coinciding with Volto!’s appearance at Yestival in Camden (NJ), alongside Yes, Renaissance, Carl Palmer Band and Sound of Contact.

Anyone who approaches Incitare hoping for some Tool-related music to fill the long wait for the cult quartet’s next album is bound to be disappointed, because Volto!’s debut shares very little (if anything) with Tool’s intense, esoteric sound. In spite of its high-sounding Latin title (“to drive/encourage”), the album is full of the genuine pleasure of playing music, as reflected by the humorous, cartoon-inspired black-and-white cover artwork. While the impressive résumé of the band members might lead some listeners to expect a triumph of style over substance, Incitare comes across as surprisingly easy on the ear. The music possesses a natural flow that is not always associated with such an amount of technical skill: it is exhilarating, energetic and often quite heavy, but never used as a showcase for pointless fireworks, and also unexpectedly melodic.

That being said, Incitare does not lay any claim to being innovative – rooted as it is in the classic jazz-rock tradition of the Seventies, with just a touch of contemporary flair to spice things up. The prominent role of drums and guitar and their seamless, scintillating interplay evoke Billy Cobham’s collaboration with Tommy Bolin on the seminal Spectrum album, or Mahavishnu Orchestra circa Birds of Fire; on the other hand, Jeff Babko’s bold keyboard work hints at some modern-day heavy fusion outfits such as Derek Sherinian’s Planet X (as well as his solo work).

These comparisons immediately spring to mind as “Grip It” opens the album, its fiery, relentless guitar riffs and keyboards backed by Carey’s pyrotechnic drumming; the pace slows down towards the middle, with Ziegler delivering a clear, piercingly melodic solo before things heat up again. The next two tracks showcase the band’s skillful handling of contrasts between dynamic urgency and more laid-back moments. Electric piano lends its unmistakable touch to the intriguing structure of “Gillz”: in the first part, the instruments apparently play at odds but manage to keep a sense of cohesion, while the pace quickens in the finale, driven by lively drums and heavy riffing. “Whopner” is pervaded by a mysterious atmosphere, with faraway-sounding guitar and an almost military drumbeat; then organ takes the lead and drums gain momentum. As hinted in the title, “Drumbeaux” – at over 8 minutes the longest track on the album – spotlights Carrey’s celebrated skills, its central section dedicated to a drum solo that does not overstay its welcome, bookended by spacey, riff-heavy ensemble playing.

Airy and melodic, “Quirk” brings back again echoes of Cobham’s Spectrum, with guitar and electric piano indulging in an elegant duet; while “BHP” barges in with a funky swagger and a barrage of crunching riffs, underpinned by spacey electronics and Carey’s spectacular drumming, then turns subdued, almost romantic in the middle, displaying the band’s ability to shift gears in seemingly effortless fashion. The aptly titled “Meltdown” sees the band dabble with all sorts of electronic effects, while Carey lets rip on his kit, apparently having the time of his life; then the sleek, bass-driven ride of “Tocino” brings things back to normal, with Lance Morrison finally stepping into the limelight and elegant piano flurries enhancing the brisk pace of the track. The album closes on a high note with the power-ballad-meets-vintage-fusion of “I’m Calm Now” – Ziegler’s slow-burning lead reminiscent of Jeff Beck or Gary Moore (especially in his Colosseum II days), then leaving the stage to Babko’s eerily reverberating electric piano and moody, understated synth.

Besides its obvious appeal for fans of impeccably played classic jazz-rock/fusion (especially those who are not averse to a bit of heaviness), Incitare is also a very cohesive piece of work, and avoids the temptation of sprawling, overlong compositions. It also celebrates the joy of playing music at a very high level of proficiency without hitting the listener over the head with one’s chops. In these times of studio-only projects, often conducted over the Internet without any physical contact between the musician, it is heartwarming to see an album that has its origins in live performance – an excellent example of instrumental music that sounds fresh and engaging without pretending to reinvent the wheel.

Tracklist:

1. Grip It (5:50)
2. Gillz (6:37)
3. Whopner (6:13)
4. Drumbeaux (8:36)
5. Quirk (4:09)
6. BHP (6:03)
7. Meltdown (4:57)
8. Tocino (4:25)
9. I’m Calm Now (6:49)

Line-up:

* John Ziegler -  guitar
* Lance Morrison – bass
* Danny Carey – drums
* Jeff Babko – keyboards

Links:

http://www.voltoband.com/

http://www.concordmusicgroup.com

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