California band Tribal Tech (1984-2000) was one of very few prospective carriers of the post-Weather Report fusion torch, so co-founding bassist Gary Willis knows about his former group’s looming shadow—especially when his new trio also features Kirk Covington, Tribal Tech’s drummer during the second half of its career. On Slaughterhouse 3, their combined rhythmic muscle fuels the unorthodoxy of Spanish saxophonist Liberty Fortuny.
Using a combination of analog pedals and digital effects, Fortuny often sounds like anything but a saxophonist. After easing into the opening title track through traditional tones within the rhythm section’s 6/8 cadence, Fortuny fires shots of guitar-like feedback. The piece later shifts into 4/4 time for its rocking coda. “Life Story” likewise morphs from a near-traditional swing feel to a double-timed section in which everything about Fortuny’s playing (tone, phrasing, attack) sounds more like a synthesizer.
Willis’ fretless bass is often tweaked as well, a tactic best used on funk-infused pieces like “Toxic” and “Stinky.” But effects, funk rhythms and purposeful backbeats eventually add up to a formidable fusion trio watering down into the shallower jam band end of the pool. All three musicians are credited with composing every track, a sign that this CD was largely produced through improvisational jamming.
Like Willis (who worked with Wayne Shorter), Tribal Tech’s co-founding guitarist Scott Henderson worked with a Weather Report co-founder in Joe Zawinul. No one ever called Weather Report a jam band. It’s great to hear a post-Jaco titan like Willis again after a long stint under the radar, but a live CD might’ve better showcased what this trio can do. Then again, live CDs don’t sell in jam-band circles; they get traded.