Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hair Apparent: Frank Gambale

(Editor's note: This will be the first in a series of posts about albums that don't quite qualify in the Lost Classics category, yet still warrant a closer look. It's dedicated to those efforts that aspired to greatness, but only barely grazed it -- the "hair apparents" of the metal world.)

Frank Gambale, The Great Explorers (JVC, 1993)
The Big Idea: Jazz-fusion meets the lighter side of '80s metal

Choice Cuts: "The Great Explorers," "Duet Tuet" and "She Knows Me Well"

Sonic Brethren: Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Gary Hoey, Van Halen

Frank Gambale is perhaps best known for playing with jazz fusion piano master Chick Corea, but his melodic shredding has a lot of '80 metal crossover appeal. Gambale's The Great Explorers is one of the most rocking platters in his discography. In keeping with the album title, he is pictured on the cover looking like an intrepid adventurer, posed with his choice tool of conquest -- an Ibanez guitar. He covers a lot of sonic territory with that celebrated instrument -- both on the album as a whole and on the microcosm of the three featured tracks -- so let's begin.

The disc's title track opens with a deceptive cadence: a few bars of clean, jazzy guitar work anchored by unorthodox drum patterns. The song's true character doesn't even emerge until a little shy of the minute mark. It's then that we first hear a cascading synthesizer riff that sounds like the lost keyboard work of Eddie Van Halen buttressed by blasts of distorted guitar and tom-tom rolls on the drums. The abrupt change leads into the song's main theme, with Gambale delivering an ultra-melodic melody that's repeated throughout the song.

The Van Halen influence continues through the next track, "Duet Tuet." Clocking in at a mere 43 seconds, this number is more like an unofficial intro to "She Knows Me Well" rather than a full-fledged song in its own right. The short tune allows Gambale and drummer Jonathan Mover to do some tandem shredding in the vein of the Eddie and Alex Van Halen's intro to "Hot for Teacher."

After the frantic fret and skins bashing of "Duet Tuet," "She Knows Me Well" offers a lush, romantic melody that meanders along at a reflective and dreamy pace. Guitarist Gary Hoey shares a co-writing credit on this tune, but it's Gambale's playing that takes it to another level. He caresses his guitar so tenderly that it's hard to imagine "She Knows Me Well" was inspired by anything other than the bittersweet experience of first love. Think about the soaring, emotional fretwork of Steve Stevens in the "Top Gun Anthem" and you can begin to understand the vibe of this tune.

While the remainder of The Great Explorers may be a bit too jazz fusion to appeal to most metalheads, these three tracks are worth a listen. I don't know if they're available on iTunes, but they'd definitely be worth the $2.97 if so.

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