Album review: ROB KORAL – Wild Hearts

Pete Feenstra chatted to Rob Koral for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio playing tracks from the album ‘Wild Hearts’.  First broadcast 13 June 2021.

Rob Koral - Wild Hearts

RKUK [Release date 28.05.21]

Rob Koral’s ‘Wild Hearts’ is an exhilarating instrumental album comprising guitar, Hammond organ and drums.

The Blue Commotion guitarist leads an old school ‘live in the studio’ affair. Recorded under lockdown conditions, it’s forged by improvisation and shaped by real feel, as it explores elements of rock, blues, jazz, fusion and funk.

It’s an exciting combination that fully justifies the album title in the sense of capturing the trio’s unfettered intensity.

It’s not quite a free form project – the music is too concise for that – but with the exception of a few loose themes,  the trio started with a blank canvas and 6 hours to record an album from the bottom upwards.

It helps of course that Rob could rely on his long time Blue Commotion Hammond player Pete Whittaker, to provide a percussive presence with his earthy Hammond and left hand bass lines.

The trio is anchored by current King Crimson drummer Jeremy Stacey, who mixes relentless drive with subtlety to glue together the creative spark and feel to be found in all 8 tracks here.

And though this is a Rob Koral solo album, he’s self evidently a team player who always gives himself to the groove, and whose melodic phrasing and occasional brusque riffling is constantly open to different ideas and styles,  sometimes in the same song.

He’s a fluid player who approaches his tones in the manner a painter might add pressure to a brush stroke, or explore a contrasting lightness of touch.

The opening ‘Show Me The Way’ features tension building organ and guitar double lines as part of a sparse arrangement. Koral adds some spiky wah-wah and rhythmic comping, Whittaker the sudden tempo change, a cool walking bass figure and full blow Hammond solo, and Stacey the propulsion on a great example of the parts supporting the greater whole.

And while the trio revels in its improvisational freedom, Koral’s ability to explore different musical styles gives the album it’s linear progression and flow.

His knows when to seize the moment, as evidenced by ‘Summer’ an extended piece which leads him to inhabit what Ralph Towner called a “reverent musical space.”

On paper ‘Wild Hearts’ is an exercise in simplicity, to just plug in and play and see what happens, but the grooves soon bubble up and envelop us, while the musical empathy in the room gives the album its different colours and visceral quality.

The album’s ebb and flow comes from the band members giving each other plenty of space and seizing the initiative when the moment demands it. This is no more so than on the extended anchor track ‘Summer’.

It’s an eloquent celebration of what the trio does so well, as it moves from a percussive opening with Koral’s chops evoking Pat Metheny’s fluency, into a tougher and more concise attack with shades of a Larry Carlton’s tone, albeit with tension building squalls.

It evolves into a 70’s West Coast feel with echoes of a Grateful Dead jam. Then there the feel of the John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana version of ‘Love Supreme’, as Stacey’s relentless drive pushes Koral back to McLaughlin style intensity.

The band leader then employs a gnawing riff driven intro and growling tone on the muscular ‘Take Me’. This contrasts sharply with the more sonorous ‘Saving Grace’, which features a twice repeated, reflective Jan Akkerman era Focus theme.

Whittaker’s adds a Peddlers style organ break and shares some exquisite interplay with Stacey. It all flows seamlessly into a melodic break from Koral and some belated Zappa, ‘Chunga’s Revenge’ era wah wah over some fabulous stick work from Stacey, as they head into the gentlest of fades.

And having explored jazz, fusion, funk – check out the clean toned phrasing, Hammond solo break and nimble stick work on ‘Funky D’ –  there’s also the Jimmy Smith jump bluesy inflection of ‘The Show Down’.

It’s something of a shock then to find Koral evoking Paul Kossoff with a gutsy tone and real intensity on ‘The Beyond’.

It’s neatly juxtaposed by the aptly titled ‘Hold Tight’, an exhilarating, rip-roaring finale on which Koral’s final notes resonate alongside judicious Hammond work.

If the biggest challenge facing an instrumental album is to draw the listener into something fresh and original and then keep them there with stylistic diversity, strong melodies and some supreme jamming, then ‘Wild Hearts’ ticks all the right boxes.

‘Wild Hearts’ rocks hard – listen to the way the band takes off like a jet plane in the middle of ‘Hold Tight’ – and explores both intensity and feel, while offering plenty of variety in both its material and Koral’s guitar playing.

Paul Stacey’s pristine mix imbues the music with a pristine sonic presence, worthy of an instrumental album played with real passion and an outstanding collective musical ability. ****½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 20 March 2022 at 21:00 GMT (16:00 EST). Josh’s next session is Sunday 22 May.

Check out previous videos here:

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 8 May 2022.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 3 May 2022.

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