Reviewer: Bob Mulvey
Review Date: October 2006
An album arrives out of the blue from a guy (or band) I've never heard of before, and one I really should have heard of. Al Garcia is the latest in this trend.
Now I have to say that reading some of the comments about Al's playing prior to listening to the album I was somewhat sceptical. A guy who plays guitar like Allan Holdsworth and bass like Jeff Berlin, surely this is not possible. Well I have to tell you that Mr Garcia posses the chops to do both these jobs - admirably. As to whether or not he sounds like either of those guys is debatable, but certainly Al is a crafted musician on the six, five and four stringed instrument. And it doesn't end there, he also lays down the drums and percussion on several tracks. And while were on with the plaudits, best get them all out of the way before we delve into the music. Al has also written all the music, produced the album and designed the album cover... did I miss anything? Well perhaps we should note that Alternate Realities isn't entirely a one man show and three guest musicians appear - Chris Garcia and Dean Rohan (drums) and Fred Ramirez (piano).
But none of the above would matter one iota if the music wasn't good. Well again I have to report that it is. Al writes accessible instrumentals which fall into that huge cauldron that is labelled jazz-fusion. However unlike many others in this field, the music on Alternate Realities is very strong on composition and not just avenue for Mr Garcia to display his undeniable chops. Don't get me wrong, Al's fret board dexterity is always on display, but forms an integral part of the music rather than just being the end result.
Al Garcia's website lists a number of influences, which I won't re-list, but needless to say contain leading exponents from the fusion, jazz, progressive, rock and classical arenas. And this broad spectrum gives Al's music its greater appeal. Certainly the influence of Allan Holdsworth is undeniable, however the arrangements steer away from Holdsworth's more intense fusion style, and there is a lightness to the tracks that is captivating. Mr Garcia also incorporates a guitar synth, which again adds greatly to the music. Unlike others I've heard, the guitar synth isn't used merely to make the guitar sound like a different musical instrument played poorly - but Al uses it to add to the overall sonic plate. Yes some solos feature keyboard(y) sounds but here I feel they work. Pat Methney in his more melodic moments!
Now I know I use this phrase too often, but again it applies - "the album is fairly consistent throughout and selecting those for note is difficult". The opening three tracks set the tone nicely for the album and much in Holdsworth fashion. The introduction of Secret Correspondences sees Fred Ramirez on piano broadening the palette, his light "classical" opening lays foundation for one of the jewels from the album. I think I even detected Mellotron sounds creeping in here and there. With the introduction of Latin percussion, lilting bass another hero of mine, Al Di Meola sprang to mind. Not for the first or the last time on the album.
Materia Prima again features percussion and Al turns to the acoustic guitar for this jaunty track. But hey, I have neglected to mention Al's bass playing - as with many of the tracks this one features a great melodic solo, which adds another dimension to the great percolating bass that fills this album.
Three Of A Kind - atmospheric, nicely held back - great. And to be honest the music just keeps coming, with the only redundant track (for me) being the brief The Pleasure Of Progress - but a minor hiccup on a great album.
Initially Alternate Realities fell just short of a DPRP recommended tag, not because the music falls short in any way, just because I couldn't say that the music would appeal to all. But one final listen swayed my decision. So if finely crafted, melodic fusion instrumentals are your bag, then I can recommend this album to you unreservedly. Top drawer stuff!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10