Jan Hammer

Drive

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For an instrumental artist, hitting the pop charts is a blessing, but it can also bring along the baggage of stereotyping and higher expectations. If the smash happens to be the biggest sensation of a given decade, it might be that much harder to break the mold. But Jan Hammer, a fusion pioneer with the groundbreaking Mahavishnu Orchestra but best known for his in-your-face guitar-oriented synth assault on the "Miami Vice" theme circa 1985, adheres to his own mixed, moody agenda on his first non-scoring project in years, the percussive yet often sweet and very melodic Drive. From the fluffy tropical pleasures of "Island Dreamer" to the sugary breezes of "Lucky Jane," Hammer seems intent on showing a softer, subtle side in addition to the punchy snap his fans are used to. And just coincidentally, despite the very electronic-sounding landscape he creates, he shows some frequently peppy jazz chops. While an intense, sweeping hummability and inventive, plugged-in percussion wall keep every song on a worthwhile path, the most remarkable aspect of the collection (his second Miramar disc, after the soundtrack to the wildly successful "Beyond the Mind's Eye" video), is the way Hammer chooses various sounds using his synth arsenal. On "Don't You Know," he takes on an electric guitar feel, while "Nightglow" gives a dead-on impression of a smoky, muted trumpet. When he feels like interacting with human voices, he calls on old friends and collaborators like Jeff Beck (whose plucky, raw guitarisma blows the title cut to high heaven) and the more sensuous strains of Michael Brecker.

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