Oteil Burbridge / Jerry Goodman / Howard Levy / Steve Smith

Stranger's Hand

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In the late 1990s, drummer Steve Smith set out to reinvigorate the long slumbering jazz-rock fusion movement with a series of all-star recordings on his own Tone Center record label. The Stranger's Hand is the best of the lot, with four instrumental masters coming together for nine days of spontaneous combustion that recalls the music's heyday while also bringing the freshness of new discovery into the updated mix. The assembled cast includes fusion pioneer Jerry Goodman. He was the wild electric violin-slinging frontman for the Flock a once-great but long forgotten band which came out in the wake of the Blood, Sweat & Tears horn-band rush of the late '60s. (Goodman would make his most lasting mark as an original member of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early '70s.) Also on board is multi-instrumental wizard Howard Levy, best known for his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Anchoring the rhythm section with Smith is Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge. The material brings to mind the players' past associations. "Brick Chicken" and "Glimmer of Hope" are reminiscent of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with the latter in the 11/8 time signature used on some of that group's classic material. "Sufferin' Catfish" would have fit neatly into a Flecktones recording. "Caliente" sounds quite contemporary in an organic-funk way, while "Moonchild" is a beautiful piece for violin and acoustic piano, and the title track closes the disc with a blaze of heat and atmospheric fireworks.

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