Eddie Arjun (formerly Arjun) is the collective name of New York-based instrumental trio, consisting of lead guitarist (and producer of this album) Eddie Arjun Peters, backed up by Andre Lyles on bass and Mike Vetter on drums.
Essentially they combine the raw expression and energy of rock and blues with the sophistication and intricacy of jazz and progressive rock, resulting in a musical fusion that is unique and original. All three members are musicians of the highest calibre and manage to balance free expression on their respective individual instruments whilst managing to interlock musically in an airtight, completely synergistic way.
Founded back in 2003, the band developed their craft over time and they eventually began releasing a trilogy of studio albums which started with Space (2013), followed by Core (2014, reviewed very favourably by yours truly) and culminating in 2016’s Gravity. These albums also featured contributions by highly regarded musicians such as E.J. Rodriguez (The Jazz Passengers, Sean Lennon), John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood), Cory Henry (Snarky Puppy) and Jeff Coffin (Dave Mathews Band, Bela Fleck and The Flecktones).
This album, Transition, consists of eight tracks and is due for release February 1st, 2019. Opening track There It Is gets the album off to a strong start. It begins with a Jimmy Page-style rock/blues riff which for many rock bands would become enough to base a whole track around, but it forms just one of a number of melodic themes and motifs which are deployed throughout the track. It leads straight into a high-end blues/funk riff, with the simple rhythm soon displaced with syncopations. This is alternated with the low-end riff, played in tandem on the bass with a short chromatic section adding further variety.
Drummer Mike Vetter and bassist Andre Lyles soon manifest as a formidable rhythm section, both rock solid and incredibly fluid. They lay the platform for Eddie Arjun Peters’ versatile, almost otherworldly guitar skills. Halfway through the track it breaks down to an extended section where Eddie gets to show the more psychedelic Hendrix/Gilmour side to his playing, with some incredibly mellifluous runs across the neck. This is underpinned by some stunning playing from Vetter and Lyles, culminating in a jaw dropping section of virtuosity before returning to the original groove.
Second track Core opens in a blaze of Keith Moon-esque drum fills and raw guitar chords before launching into a mellow blues in 6/8 time. From this simple template, the band progress through an intricate arrangement full of nuanced dynamics where almost every bar has some clever accent placement or rhythmic motif that adds musical interest.
It then builds up to a gorgeous ascending section that Hendrix would have been proud of, the music exuding sensuality. Eddie gets to break out his wah-wah which he uses tastefully and effectively, bringing to mind the Jimi of his latter day Voodoo Chile-period.
Next comes the title track and it’s a very different beast. Opening with a taut guitar riff that keeps you hanging in suspense it then locks into a pulsing, intense groove with a continually unpredictable rhythm that shifts under your feet. This is the track where the whole band really showcase their mastery of rhythmic dynamics and their remarkable unity that almost seems telepathic but is no doubt the result of tireless rehearsing.
Here the music is more modal than pentatonic giving it a more exotic feel, though still with a strong bluesy vibe. It feels like every single note has been worked out to precision, with some astonishing moments where all three players reach a frenzy yet remain in complete control, such as the superb solo section and the frenetic climax.
The following Longass has an irresistible groove and a real strut, with the guitar and bass once again playing a funky blues riff in tandem. And again, what starts out as a seemingly simple rock/blues jam becomes a cleverly arranged epic. After the initial sections have been repeated a further section midway through takes the music into the stratosphere, with Eddie Arjun Peters breaking out the delay pedal for another skyscraping solo. Another album highlight.
Iana is more like an interlude track consisting of just a moody solo bass, acting as a lull in the storm. The next two tracks both made me think of Hendrix, but in different parts of his short career. Sixth track Ascent is a mellow jazzy blues number that recalls the Axis: Bold as Love era, specifically songs like Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand. The arrangement is very clever in how it reflects the title perfectly, gradually building up to the thrilling development section where Andre Lyles shines with some remarkably fluid bass playing, locked in perfectly with Mike Vetter’s whirlwind fills around the kit.
The following, aptly-titled Lavalust is more akin to the wild epic psychedelic rock of Electric Ladyland and is my personal favourite on the album. Kicking off with a killer slap bassline put through a phaser, this is joined by a torrent of flamboyant fills reminiscent of Mitch Mitchell. It then launches into a rock/blues masterpiece that takes all their combined compositional and arrangement skills to another level.
The breakdown section in the middle is where this track really aims for the stars though; delay-drenched lead guitar playing some mind bending runs over gradually intensifying bass and drums, as trippy as something like 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be) from Hendrix’s last magnum opus. It then returns back to Earth for another fantastic section where the guitar does indeed drip like liquid lava, and the whole band is captured at their euphoric, boundary-pushing best.
Closing track Gone is a real slow burner. It starts with a languid groove that really allows the music to breathe, Vetter and Lyles play with exquisite restraint while Eddie Arjun Peters slowly weaves a spell with some deliciously dreamy guitar work. The main theme is plaintive and haunting, the arrangement gradually growing in grandeur towards one final blaze of wah-soaked guitar pyrotechnics. It continues through several sections on this subtly complex seven-minute sonic odyssey. It’s a majestic way to end the journey overall, finishing on an unexpected major chord which gives an air of completion.
Overall, this is the best album so far from this terrifically talented trio. The three members of Eddie Arjun have honed their respective skills to a very fine pitch, have developed a musical unity and synergy that few musicians ever achieve and most importantly write and perform consistently stunning music. The nuanced details and craft in the arrangement of every track means it will richly reward repeated listening and should appeal to an enormous range of rock, blues and jazz aficionados.