Niacin showed a great deal of promise on its self-titled debut album of 1996, and there were no signs of the infamous sophomore slump on the fusion trio's second album, High Bias. Recalling the '70s experiments of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and the Billy Cobham/George Duke Band, this exciting CD served as a reminder that the freedom of jazz and the intensity of rock can complement one another in a major way. Niacin must have been quite a learning experience for its bassist Billy Sheehan, whose main pre-Niacin gig had been his hard rock band Mr. Big. When he formed Niacin with organist/keyboardist John Novello and drummer extraordinaire Dennis Chambers in the mid-'90s, Sheehan proved that he had no problem handling jazz's complexity and challenges, and he proves it once again on everything from the urgent "Slapped Silly" and the Cuban-flavored "Montuno" to the churchy "It's the Little Things" and the cerebral "Hang Me Upside Down" (a song contributed by Stretch Records co-owner and onetime RTF leader Chick Corea, who has a nice cameo on keyboards). Another high point of the CD is Weather Report's "Birdland," which Niacin approaches in a rather angular fashion. Those who like their fusion meaty and improvisatory should make a point of obtaining High Bias.
High Bias Review
by Alex Henderson