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Cameron Graves: Live from the Seven Spheres (Artistry)

A review of the pianist/keyboardist's third album

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Cameron Graves: Live from the Seven Spheres (Artistry)
The cover of Live from the Seven Spheres by Cameron Graves

A charter member of the West Coast Get Down, pianist/keyboardist Cameron Graves has carved out his own niche with a brain-rattling blend of heavy metal, prog rock, and the more fervently virtuosic strain of ’70s jazz fusion. Live from the Seven Spheres features an unbridled concert performance by the powerhouse quartet from Graves’ sophomore release Seven, with material culled from that album and its predecessor Planetary Prince.

The thundering opening strains of “Sacred Spheres” leave no doubt of the band’s intentions, boasting unabashed intensity and dizzying tempo shifts. Graves has cited the likes of Pantera and Meshuggah as influences, but his approach favors a quicksilver fluidity over the blunt-force aggression of those bands. At its most relentless, his music suggests the quantum intricacy of King Crimson or the precision ferocity of Return to Forever (hardly a coincidence that Stanley Clarke has employed both Graves and his jaw-dropping drummer, Mike Mitchell, in his own band).

The hammering head of “Planetary Prince” leans more into metal riffery, though it soon gives way to a serpentine McLaughlin-esque melody sparking a showcase for guitarist Colin Cook’s lithe, keen shredding. “Red” veers between Chopin and Rush with delirious abandon, threatening at every hairpin turn to go straight over the top; like a great Technicolor melodrama, it works within its own overwrought design, every element taken to a similarly heightened extreme. 

It feels strange to say that a 20-plus-minute track provides a respite, but the album-closing “The End of Corporatism” does just that, pulling back on the throttle to give the full band space to stretch out. The playing is no less exacting and exuberant, but it captures a more freewheeling, celebratory spirit that can only come from such a high-level band engaging with a high-spirited audience.


Learn more about Live from the Seven Spheres at Amazon and Apple Music!

Cameron Graves: L.A. Steel

Shaun Brady

Shaun Brady is a Philadelphia-based journalist who covers jazz along with an eclectic array of arts, culture, and travel. Brady contributes regularly to the Philadelphia Inquirer and JazzTimes and Jazziz magazines, with subjects ranging from legendary artists to underground experimentalists. His byline has appeared in DownBeat, Metro, NPR Music, and The A.V. Club, among other outlets. He studied filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago and continues to spend too much time in the dark.