Personnel: John Ziegler (guitar); Jeff Babko (keyboards); Danny Carey (drums).
Audio Mixer: Joe Barresi.
Recording information: The Loft, Hollywood, CA (12/2011-02/2012).
Illustrator: Adam Jones.
For fans of Tool and the late lamented Pygmy Love Circus, and followers of L.A.'s music scene, the release of Incitare, the debut album by instrumental power rock combo Volto!, is welcome news. The band is comprised of Tool (and former PLC) drummer Danny Carey, ace session bassist Lance Morrison, and guitarist John Ziegler (also PLC). They have been playing together informally in rehearsals and on their city's club scene since 2000 whenever their schedules would allow, at the beginning as a cover band. We're talking jazz fusion, jam band craziness here -- Weather Report, Tony Williams Lifetime, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa, etc. A few years back, they began playing their own tunes, often improvising them on the stage. When they decided to record, they enlisted veteran session keyboardist Jeff Babko and recording engineer Joe Baressi, and cut Incitare live to 24-track analog tape in Carey's home studio. The live feel -- four of these nine cuts were first takes, the rest were second or third -- is immediately apparent. While there are massive metallic grooves on cuts such as opener "Grip It," "Gillz," "Drumbeaux," and "BHP," all wear the influences of Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer, Larry Coryell's Eleventh House, Bill Connors-era Return to Forever, the late Larry Young albums, etc., but are read through the knotty, mathy, prog metal heaviness of bands such as Meshuggah and Japan's Tipographica. Even on more straightforward tracks, such as "Whopner," where a slow monstrous Ziegler riff (answered with outstanding fills and extensions by Morrison) dominates the main body of the track, the shifts in tempo (courtesy of Carey's arch snare and bass drum work), architecture, and dynamics are pronounced. Babko's keyboards on this cut -- which alternate between organ, synth, and Rhodes -- offer not only textural variety, they provide key structural frames for the other instruments to key off of. While "Meltdown" is a completely improvised bit of keyboard and drum skronk, given how tight the rest of the set is, it's a welcome interlude rather than a distraction. Carey's drumming throughout relies on depth of field and precise syncopation, and is in general more interesting than it is with Tool (which is saying plenty); his rumbling quick snare breaks, fills, rolls, and rim shots on "Tocino" -- as they double- and even triple-time the rest of the band -- are astonishing. Closer "I'm Calm Now" may commence slowly, but its tempo offers an opportunity for some of the most melodic hard rock playing on the entire date; it's a killer showcase for the soulfulness in Ziegler's guitar playing and the band's ability to play loose and free as well as taut and complex. As a debut, Incitare's inspirations may be heavily steeped in the past, but Volto! is a band whose members write, arrange, and play with modern imagination, sophistication, and an infectious energy. ~ Thom Jurek