With the Zawinul Syndicate gone following the 2007 passing of its leader, and guitarist Fareed Haque exiting Garaj Mahal, who will carry the torch for the variety of fusion that blends organically with world music? One candidate for the job is Human Element, a band essentially born as an outgrowth of pianist, synth wizard and vocoder manipulator Scott Kinsey’s 2006 album Kinesthetics (on which Zawinul served as executive producer). Rather than do a second recording with a cast of thousands, Kinsey put together a quartet with Armenian percussionist and singer Arto Tuncboyaciyan, who served a stint with the Zawinul Syndicate, electric bass monster Matthew Garrison and journeyman drummer Gary Novak.
The band’s self-titled debut pulsates with intoxicating rhythms; opens up for displays of instrumental virtuosity, particularly by Garrison; and, especially on the vocal tracks, hints at old-school prog rock. Funk is never very far away, either: “Shake It!” gets its kicks from synth blips and beeps, hyperactive drums and percussion, Garrison’s subdued popping and slapping, and Kinsey’s vocoder interjections. The tune is one of four penned by Kinsey, along with atmospheric opener “Introduction”; “The Human Element,” bubbling and hypnotic; and the searching “Essaouira,” one of the tracks most heavily influenced by the Zawinul school of world fusion.
Garrison’s tricky, stair-stepping lines underpin his “Izzy,” and his other contribution, “Cut.” With eight of the disc’s 14 tracks to his credit, Tuncboyaciyan’s compositions dominate. Particularly appealing are his “Speak With Your Eye,” with a sing-song vocal line attached to relentless, rubbery grooves, the call-and-response “Listen With Your Mouth,” and the pastoral “See With Your Ear.” If Human Element’s live shows are anything like their studio work, the sensory experience must be overwhelming.