David Sancious

Transformation (The Speed of Love)

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Most music fans know of multi-instrumentalist and composer David Sancious as an early keyboardist/arranger for Bruce Springsteen, or his work as a sideman with Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bryan Ferry, Jack Bruce, Erykah Badu, Michael Franks, Santana, Youssou N'Dour, Hall & Oates, Aretha Franklin, Zucchero, and many others. Transformation (The Speed of Love) is Sancious' second album for Epic. It follows the ambitious Forest of Feelings, produced by Billy Cobham. As fine as that album was, effortlessly combining emotionally open approaches to jazz, rock, funk, and classical music, Transformation (The Speed of Love) is almost exponentially better in terms of composition, arrangement, and execution. Using the same band under the Tone moniker -- drummer Ernest Carter and bassist Gerald Carboy -- this Bruce Botnick-produced set builds on the strengths of its predecessor. The tracks are longer, ranging from six and a half to over 18 minutes -- and there are only four. Sancious plays no fewer keyboards here (Rhodes and acoustic piano, clavinet, synth, organ, etc.), but Transformation (The Speed of Love) is also a showcase for his quite literally astonishing guitar playing -- both electric and acoustic -- and his deep love for soul and blues as they integrate with progressive rock, funk, and jazz fusion. Opener "Piktor's Metamorphosis," with its soaring lead guitar lines, backing vocals, and elegant -- if tightly timed -- bass vamps and breakbeats, is spiritually uplifting even as it careens from one end of the tone spectrum to the other. "Sky Church Hymn #9," a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, uses acoustic 12-bar blues played with a slide atop a tom-tom, before becoming a wild ride from funky shuffle boogie to psych, caroming jazz-funk, and back again. It's executed with drama and a dynamic passion that equates with the phenomenal technique on display. "The Play and Display of the Heart" is a lengthy acoustic ballad where Sancious duets with himself on piano and guitar. Its folk, classical, and Indian modal sounds create a welcome respite after the intensity of the previous two numbers. The title track -- with backing vocals from Gayle Moran -- takes up the entire second half. Beginning as a nearly martial prog rock anthem, it strikes out for parts unknown with multiple chord and mode progressions weaving to and fro as the rhythm section moves in double time before underscoring labyrinthine, even soaring electric guitar lyricism and funky organ vamps. Carboy's elastic bassline offers a worthy harmonic foil, with Carter punching in dramatic fashion to wind this jam toward the margins. The trio explores different chromatic elements aggressively but melodically inside each new set of changes, never losing focus. Eventually, the jam discovers inner spaces and undergoes metamorphosis before finding a transcendent way forward in order to close. As an album, Transformation (The Speed of Love) is awe-inspiring, a work of progged-out jazz-rock that's as iconic as Birds of Fire, Blow by Blow, or Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, yet stands alone for its artful ambition and emotional commitment.

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