Album review: JOHN KLINE – Different Drummers

Wet Present Records [Release date 23.11.12]

With the exception of the title track which features drummer Michael Arata, ‘Different Drummers’ is a completely self penned, engineered and produced album by multi instrumentalist John Kline. He leads on guitar, but plays all the instrumental parts on a prog rock, fusion album routed with an ambient feel.

The 14 tracks err on the side of brevity and restraint and make their mark through subtle changes of moods, different feels and potent melodies, that are given extra emphasis by an array of rich guitar tones and thoughtfully layered sounds.

‘Different Drummers’ stands outs because it is music infused with a spiritual enquiry and conveyed by a simplicity of expression that gives it a bright optimistic feel. Sure, there are chunks of instrumental rock and elements of soft metal, fusion, funk, electronic and ambient music, but John Kline’s sense of balance manifest itself in the juxtaposition of structure and spontaneity. Above all, ‘Different Drummers’ showcases his unique musical voice which is carried by melodies and solos that speak from the heart.

He rarely overstays his welcome on a piece, as evidenced by the opening meditative ambience of the self explanatory ‘Beginning’. On the following ‘Play’, his ability to shred has less to do with a demonstration of his undoubted technical ability, than the need to generate cascading waves of sounds that re-emphasize the kind of melody that fans of Kansas or Boston would warm to.

‘Different Drummers’ is the sum of its intricate parts. It’s an album full of short sketches, musical moods and deep melodies which his PR sheet correctly describes as ‘self soothing’ and full of ‘self expression’. And if that sounds like an excuse for an introspective vanity project, nothing could be further from the truth, as the compositions are full of musical substance, delicate sonic beauty and real feel.

You will find influences aplenty, ranging from the Dave Gilmour and Pink Floyd feel of ‘Lament’, to the fractured percussive restlessness of ‘Entropy, which evokes the disorder if not the randomness of the title. It’s a song that shifts from the opening fractured Gentle Giant influences to Zappa style percussive density with synth and guitar noodles.

John’s song titles usually reflect the musical mood, even if there is an occasional sense of irony as on ‘Half Baked Fusion’, which is a sumptuous piece with another expansive melody line. ‘Snaggle Tooth Belly Bug’ explores a similar musical landscape, with an intricate Eric Johnson/ Carl Verheyen style opening. It’s taken on by Allman Brothers style unison guitars and resolves itself in a growled, deep-toned, whammy inflected solo that returns to the melody before a gentle fade.

‘Find the Way Home’ is a delightful summery expressionistic piece with deft, acoustic and electric guitar interplay, while the piano-led ‘Lament’ is anchored by what sounds like a deftly bowed cello on a bluesy piece featuring long linear guitar lines. And there’s more intricate guitar on ‘Spaz Monkey’ which features delicate sustain and a sudden funky break with an unexpected blues harp.

‘Different Drummers’ is an album with an organic feel that gradually builds layer upon layer of sounds – though not necessarily in the same song – and opens itself to wider musical horizons. Everything flows, not only because of the thoughtful sequencing, but also as a consequence of John’s increasingly adventurous compositions that work hard not to repeat themselves.

His contrasting blend of fusion, ambient and rock music prevents any of his instrumental music from being predictable. He even incorporates pan-pipes on ‘Livin in a Fishbowl’ which is a jaunty acoustic-led melody with double tracked guitars that you could imagine as a TV theme tune.

If there’s a criticism it’s simply that too much of the album is mid-paced with only the original introductions offering a counter balance to a project in need of a real rhythm section. But ‘Back to Basics’ nails John’s commitment to clarity with a clean Pat Metheny tone, before he eventually rips things up on the inverted song title of ‘Down Ho!’

‘Different Drummers’ might not make a significant splash in the crowded prog rock instrumental market place,  but there’s surely still room for a thoughtful and well crafted album such as this. John Kline is an understated multi instrumentalist who always puts the substance of his songs first and deserves to be heard by a much bigger audience. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra


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