01/24/09

UKZ in New York

Ironically billed as the “One City World Tour,” this Town Hall concert marked a return to the scene by Eddie Jobson after a self-imposed 27-year retirement from band and touring activity. An accomplished, classically trained keyboardist and violinist, Jobson came up through the ranks with such prominent British prog-rock bands as Curved Air, Roxy Music and King Crimson before forming U.K. in the late ’70s with drummer Bill Bruford, bassist-vocalist John Wetton and guitarist Allan Holdsworth. For this new edition of the group, which he dubbed UKZ, Jobson recruited vocalist Aaron Lippert, a New York native and current Belgium resident; bassist Trey Gunn, a 10-year veteran of King Crimson and the leading exponent of the Warr 10-string touch guitar (a variation on the 12-string Chapman Stick); and two remarkable phenoms in Austrian guitarist Alex Machacek and German drummer Marco Minnemann. Together they rocked Town Hall before a small but hearty crowd of prog-rock and fusion fanatics, performing vintage U.K. material along with new tunes from UKZ’s EP, Radiation (available now via http://globemusic.goestores.com and in U.S. retail stores March 24).

“That last tune was written when Barack Obama was still in high school,” Jobson said in announcing “Carrying No Cross” from U.K.’s 1979 album #Danger Money#. Machacek easily handled Holdsworth’s mind-boggling legato guitar parts on that tune and also on the group’s opener, “In the Dead of the Night,” from U.K.’s self-titled 1978 debut, while Lippert proved a strong vocal presence on “Houston” from the group’s new EP and “The Only Thing She Needs.” Gunn anchored the well-rehearsed set with ultra-deep, nearly sub-harmonic tones while also demonstrating the contrapuntal possibilities of his Warr touch guitar during a virtuosic two-handed-tapping solo showcase. The amazing Minnemann propelled this prog-rock set with staggering precision fills and uncommon authority, like a younger, more intense version of one-time U.K. drummer Terry Bozzio. He also flaunted a combination of audacious chops, skilled orchestration and flowing creativity on the kit in a masterful solo drum piece.

Jobson switched nimbly from organ to piano to synth throughout the set, occasionally pulling out his signature clear plexiglass electric violin to wail with distortion pedal set on stun, as on “Caesar’s Palace Blues.” This band of virtuosos also surprised the knowledgeable prog-rock crowd with faithful, high-energy renditions of King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” and “The Sahara of Snow” (from Bruford’s 1979 album, One of a Kind).

Opening for UKZ on this triumphant “One City World Tour” was another new powerhouse group called Stick Men, with Tony Levin and Michael Bernier on Chapman Sticks and Levin’s longtime King Crimson bandmate Pat Mastelotto on drums. They offered a heavier, funkier take on prog-rock with Levin covering the low end and Bernier unleashing with Adrian Belew-styled abandon on his 12-string instrument on formidable jams like “Sasquatch,” “Super Collider” and the aptly named “Relentless.”

For avid fans of blistering licks and well-orchestrated bombast, both of these chops-heavy bands delivered the goods.

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