Gadi Caplan – ‘Look Back Step Forward’ Album Review

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The world of progressive/jazz fusion has no room for weakness. Whilst in many other genres you can find weak and/or deluded musicians seeking fame and fortune, the world of progressive/jazz fusion is as closed to glory-seekers as it is to those without talent. It remains (thankfully) a niche market where only those with a genuine passion for the music they play dare to tread and thus releases are few and far between. When releases do come along, however, you are that much more likely to sit up and take notice and at SonicAbuse we were excited to have the opportunity to review the new effort from Gadi Caplan, an Israeli musician (albeit based in America) who takes Progressive/jazz fusion and laces it with exotic references and subtle nods to psychedelia (check out, for example, his reworking of The Beatles’ ‘within you without you’ married to Gong’s ‘castle in the clouds’ for evidence of his space-rock inclinations) for an album that is as warm and welcoming as a hot bath after a hectic day. Prepare to be absorbed…

Opening with  ‘it’s all the same’, the album starts out gentle, a lone acoustic guitar ringing out, before Noga Shefi brings in the funkiest bass-line outside of Shaft alongside some deeply sensual sax work. It’s the sound of New York as seen in movies from the 1950s – a New York inhabited by Phil Silvers-voiced animated cats and sharply dressed gentleman escorting dazzling ladies around the brightly lit streets as jet black Fords cruise the streets. It’s soulful, somehow excitingly new and yet familiar at the same time – one of many contradictions to be found at the heart of Gadi’s playing. ‘Charlotte’ is a short piece comprising some truly beautiful, picked guitar work and then ‘brother’ appears in a more progressive vein, recalling the subtle, lovely work of early Spock’s beard / Neal Morse material. It’s the first track to feature the vocals of Oded Weinstock who has a voice not dissimilar to Peter Gabriel back when he used to front genesis. It also houses a truly immense solo which reaches its climax over a well-orchestrated backdrop of rich violin and Alex Santiago’s endlessly evolving percussion.

For me, a highlight is the exotic, imaginative ‘within the clouds’ which, as mentioned in the introduction to this piece, combines Gong and Beatles with majestic effect. It’s a brave, intelligent piece of work which sounds like David Gilmour colliding with John Lennon in a haze of LSD and Eastern promise and it’s easy to get lost in its dusty, progressive charm. In contrast, ‘Frostbite’ is the sort of funky, jazzy groove that would see the Pink Panther on the prowl with a swing in his tail with its stair-stepping keyboard work and cyclical riffs. ‘Indian summer’ takes us once again in search of hidden gems in the dark earth of the Far East. A subtle, atmospheric piece, you can imagine walking the shattered remnants of the Agra fortress as the music washes over you, and it’s as if Gadi has tapped in to the very borders of your imagination as he acts as your wordless tour guide through distant pastures. ‘Look back step forward’ takes a step in a different direction, recalling the gentle jazz swing that inspired PG Wodehouse in his writing – a sort of lush, louche jazz that is as laid back as its successor, the short, spicy ‘monsoon season’ is laced with Latin heat. ‘A Latin winter’ is cooler in temperature, but still rich enough to bring the distant sunshine into even the darkest of abodes and then ‘Tesha’ concludes the disc as a gentle coda to the delights that have gone before. Almost filmic in its quality, it feels, once again without words, as if the end has been reached, and Gadi’s exquisite playing is as emotive as an bound volume of lyrics could ever be.

A real community effort, it may be Gadi’s name on the front, and it his sublime work that dominates proceedings to be sure, but every member of the assembled cast of musicians brings something special to the table, whether it is vocals, percussion, violin or saxophone. What is most impressive is the organic feel of the record despite its different moods and styles. One moment it veers heavily into the realms of progressive rock, the next into pure jazz territory, and yet the album as a whole flows beautifully. Gadi Caplan is a master musician and a brave explorer who has somehow captured his travels and experience and reproduced them in musical form. To listen to ‘look back step forward’ is to go on a voyage of the imagination and it is with a start that you return to reality at the conclusion Gadi, and his fine musical companions, conjure up distant worlds and moods with a casual air that belies the immense skill that they possess and ‘look back step forward’ is a sublime body of work which stands as a testament to the skills of all involved. A challenging, beautiful album, this is essential for anyone interested in the world of jazz and/or progressive rock.

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