Keyboard Maestro Derek Sherinian initially made his reputation playing in Dream Theater, appearing on three albums before leaving due to disagreeing about musical direction, which saw Jordan Rudess coming in as it was felt his style was more suited to their music. Since then he’s largely performed as a solo artist, releasing a series of jazzy-rock albums with a strong rock edge, while also finding the time to play in supergroups like Black Country Communion and Sons of Apollo, alongside stints in bands like Whitesnake.
This new live album was recorded at a one-off gig, played in Ventura, California, August 2022, which saw Sherinian reuniting with ex-Toto drummer Simon Phillips. They’ve a considerable history of working together, with Phillips having played on seven of the nine solo albums Sherinian has released. For this gig, they filled out their sound with ex-Guns & Roses and Sons of Apollo guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Ric Fierabracci on bass guitar, and the result is an album absolutely rammed to the gills with some staggering high levels of musicianship and, whilst Bumblefoot is occasionally more interested in guitar shredding rather than playing, the band’s overall performance is classy, complex and very controlled, with much less of the extreme virtuoso ‘in-your-face’ excess of occasional supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment.
The music ranges right across the spheres, incorporating rock, prog, fusion and funk, and right from the opening notes of The Vortex, with Bumblefoot all over the track with some amazingly fast shredding, this is an album which becomes a showcase for four extremely gifted musicians to show us what they’re capable of.
From the album Phoenix, they perform three pieces which demonstrate the range of styles the band can produce. Empyrean Sky, previously released as a single, is a fusion style funk with some nifty keyboards, whereas Temple Of Helios, after the synth intro, is a very proggy number, and if the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Gentle Giant ever recorded together, it’d probably sound something like this. Title track The Phoenix, by contrast, with its Motorhead-style drum intro, is a fast and furious workout with each musician taking a turn to show what they can do. Sherinian reaches back twenty years and the band performs the title track from Inertia, a track where Bumblefoot dominates the first half and Sherinian the second half. They then give us the slower Alpha Burst, from Mythology, with Bumblefoot all over the fretboard with some serious shredding. Simon Phillips performs Barnacus, a three minute drum piece, and one of the few I’ve heard with no usage of cymbals, leading into the fast paced rocker Seven Seas, which sees Ric Fierabracci come into his own.
The longest track on the album, the eleven minute epic Aurora Australis from Vortex, is a very prog-based piece with Sherinian showing his Dream Theater pedigree and Bumblefoot playing guitar runs instead of shredding notes at the speed of light. The tempo picks up midway through with the music becoming heavier, and this is the kind of prog instrumental only top notch players could perform. A standout track indeed.
It was once said of George Harrison that he played guitar solos the listener could whistle afterwards, though I doubt there’ll be much whistling after listening to some of the shredding on this album. Overall, however, there are some great performances here and they just about get the balance right between virtuosity and melody. All that remains now is for Sherinian and his three cohorts to come to England and perform these songs over here…