Derek Sherinian – ‘Oceana’ Album Review

Although Derek Sherinian has been a musician for many years, contributing to the fledgling Dream Theater, Kiss’s ‘Alive III’, Alice Cooper’s ‘the last temptation’ as well as crafting a slew of solo albums, it is arguable that in the wake of the quite astonishing Black Country Communion project his star has risen higher than at any other point in his career. A prodigious musician whose abilities have led to an enviable array of high-profile collaborations, on ‘oceana’ Derek has called in a few favours resulting in guest appearances from such revered names as current band-mate Joe Bonamassa, Toto main-man Steve Lukather, Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldritch as well as many others, all of whom add depth to Derek’s typically virtuoso keyboard performances.

An instrumental release, ‘Oceana’ is an album that keeps things interesting by neither outstaying its welcome nor relying too heavily on one genre. Over the course of the nine tracks you’ll witness blistering riffs, jazz interludes, hard rock drumming and remarkable performances from all involved. Very much a musicians’ album, the tracks are all instrumental and kept relatively brief (none top 6 minutes) ensuring that even those raised on more traditionally rocking fare will be hooked. Listening to these often blistering gems what comes across most clearly is that Derek is very much a ROCK musician at heart. He treats his keyboards like guitars flashing out rippling solos at will and it is clear that he is only content to play a more subsidiary role when it suits him. His mastery and his desire to be centre-stage dominate proceedings but cleverly Derek knows what makes a good track and he has only chosen noted guitarists who can keep up with him, resulting in some truly dizzying keyboard/guitar interplay that fizzes with invention and skill. Take first track ‘five elements’, with its rumbling drum intro (courtesy of noted percussionist Simon Philips), heavy riffs and jazz-interlude all of which flies by in under five minutes. Shorn of the constraints of playing second-fiddle to vocals, the musicians all get a chance to shine and Derek is generous enough to give his co-stars plenty of time in the spotlight whilst still making sure that his keyboards are always the talking point and as he slips comfortably between genres you can only sit back and marvel at the man’s dexterity. It’s a great opening and it packs a powerful punch ensuring not only that fans of instrumental rock will be in heaven but that the more sceptical will be overpowered and hooked before they’ve had a chance to think too carefully. Similarly the rampaging synth intro of ‘mercury 7’ demonstrates just how far Derek has come as a song writer and by the time you get to the insanely fast mid section you’ll be astonished there isn’t steam rising form the speakers.

Complex and yet with a good grasp of the melodic Derek has ensured he doesn’t slip into the trap of self-indulgence over entertainment and each track not only boasts exceptional central performances but also a strongly defined melody that is simple enough to be comfortably memorable guaranteeing that this isn’t the sort of record you’ll put on and then forget the moment it finishes spinning. ‘Mulholland’ has a more relaxed vibe with a strong guitar performance from Steve Lukather who drives the track in a jazzier direction reminiscent of his own recent solo outing. ‘Euphoria’ meanwhile (also featuring Steve) is worthy of its name being a slow-paced, soulful number with Steve turning in a tight, fluid performance while Derek adds atmosphere and depth. ‘Ghost runner’ sees Steve Stevens take over on guitar and pick up the pace on a hard-rocking number that has Tony Franklin’s authoritative bass presence stamped all over it before Doug Aldritch is let loose on ‘El Camino Diablo’ which has a strong, thumping blues feel to it. It’s a great track and one of the twin highlights on the album, the other being ‘I heard that’ featuring none other than Joe Bonamassa on a piece that is exactly the sort of soulful, driving blues rock you might expect from such a pairing.

Steve Lukather straps on his axe for another shot on the pile-driving ‘seven sins’ which is surely the heaviest number here with crunching power chords backing up the more whimsical keyboard elements. That simply leaves Steve Stevens to round things out on guitar for the title track which transpires to be a subtle, beautiful, contemplative song on which to end. It’s an epic and memorable finish to the record and it offers plenty for both air guitarists and air keyboardists to admire.

I’ve not always been a fan of instrumental albums and it’s fair to say that there are few that live up the high standard demonstrated here by Derek Sherinian. His strength lies in the fact that he has not only crafted a set of memorable, interesting tunes but also that he has enlisted a strong supporting cast to help him realise his vision appropriately. Each track offers up different elements to admire with rock, blues and jazz all receiving an airing. The production is absolutely perfect (credit goes to Simon Philips and Derek for their sterling sound work) and overall ‘oceana’ is the sort of album you can put on, pump up and listen through form start to finish without wanting to skip over any of the tracks. A worthy achievement indeed and an excellent showcase of the notable rock talent currently treading the boards.

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