TransFUSION -- New Blood for a Genre Thought Dead

Art Schloemer looks back before diving forward.

Although Art “Spike” Schloemer’s album “TransFusion” was released in 2012, it continues to gain attention and acceptance a year and a half later. The proof of that is in the Weekly Top 20 of Jazz-Rock-World-Fusion Radio Station for April 12, 2013, the track “Sentimental Journey” was Number One. For May 17, 2013, he had songs at # 3 and #5! With that in mind, it is relevant to take a late look at this energetic and innovative recording.

Schloemer is the man behind it all; he composed, performed on and produced the album himself after two years of incredibly hard work. The production is excellent, the performance stellar and the composing/arranging moves forward a genre I almost thought ready for a gravestone. He calls the category (or non-category) “second generation fusion.”

In the spirit of a second generation, he leans on the first generation but only as a marker from which he can push off and propel his sound forward. However, he also pulls in his wake the sounds and textures of funk and world music along with many others. He surprises the listener with a quick Middle Eastern vocal interlude or with a humorous expulsion of what sounds like a “Hong Kong Phooey” outburst.

And that’s just in the “Sentimental Journey” track!

All the toil and sweat paid off as “TransFUSION” hit #4 on Amazon’s Best Seller Jazz ranking while also becoming one of the most pre-ordered CDs at AbstractLogix.

Schloemer openly acknowledges the influence of Joe Zawinul. Knowing that, one would expect to hear a heavy Weather Report sound. It is there without being dominant or, worse, unoriginal. However, there is also an influence from Return to Forever which is heard from the first track entitled “Concussion” where Schloemer and bassist Hadrien Feraud walk the same path as Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke, but that has been said before. As engaging as they keyboards and bass are, Dennis Chambers easily captures the hearer’s attention with his own Lenny White role.

Then in steps Bunny Brunel on bass for “Space Flight.” The track begins and is interlaced with what sounds like slightly garbled transmissions from a spacecraft. If nothing else, it keeps you in the mind-frame of what the song is about. It is Brunel, though, who provides that outer-worldly (if not other-worldly) bass base that keeps launching Schloemer’s cool keyboards.

“Distant Horizons” opens with a cacophony of voices in conversation not of English origin and this opens the door to Dennis Chambers’ master-work on drums. The Arab melodies overlaid are intoxicating. Despite the Weather Report influence here, by this the third track Schloemer is well on his own and in his own space—a space carved out by himself for himself and his bandmates.

The Eastern motif is carried into “Sentimental Journey,” the next track on the album but is surrendered in favor of sweet funk for the track “Good Times.” Schloemer never mentions Billy Preston as an influence but what funk-loving keyboardist could not be influenced in some way by Billy? The point being that “Good Times” sounds like something Billy Preston would have done in 2011.

It is “Challenge Day” that features the guitar brilliance of Scott Henderson. Henderson was a band-mate of Joe Zawinul himself in the Zawinul Syndicate, the group that was a post-Weather Report venture for Zawinul.

By this point it is clear just how appropriate are Schloemer’s selections of musicians for these compositions of his. That is never clearer than his choice of Bob Franceschini on sax for “Brain Fever.” Franceschini, recently touring with Yellowjackets, has played with Willie Colon, Mike Stern’s quartet, Dave Weckl and many more. Franceschini smokes his solos on this number.

“For Joe (In memoriam Joe Zawinul)” is the tribute to his great influence. The sweet rhythm track pushes open a wide portal for Schloemer’s keyboards and the keyboards carry the day.

“Indie Dance” just may steal the show, in my hearing. The Eastern rhythms and the vocalizations are so intriguing. This was the track that I found myself returning to hear again and again. Schloemer knows exactly when to pay off and when to pour it on.

“Emergency Evacuation” follows hard on the heels of “Indie Dance” and it gives the sense of Allan Holdsworth bashing Jan Hammer’s keyboards to smithereens…and I mean that in a good way.

“Como la Miel” is as sweet as the title declares. The melodies and rhythms are smooth and are only enhanced by the honey-like voice-overs of some lovely Latina. This the penultimate track of the album catches you a bit off-guard. So smooth and sweet. I didn’t think “Spike” Schloemer had it in him!

The final track leaves you laughing. Entitled “Keep Relaxed,” it begins with Kirk Covington’s irreverent thrashing on his drums which is greeted by the screams of an irate neighbor. The song is anything but relaxed as Art and the guys work it over. The interruptions of the sleepless neighbor only heighten the lack of relaxation and the sheer humor and joy of the music. The outro is the voice of some would-be relaxation therapist advising to “Stay out of noisy places…”

Not when listening to TransFUSION!

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Travis Rogers