It seems to be the case that there are those who believe recording an instrumental guitar album is as ‘simple’ as being good at the guitar. The fallacy of such a statement lies in two parts. Firstly there is nothing ‘simple’ about becoming exceptional at the guitar. Whilst it is true that the guitar is a relatively simple instrument to master at its basic level, to become a virtuoso player requires utter dedication and a volume of practice that sees social lives all but forgotten. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, you do not become a good songwriter by virtue of being an astonishing musician alone and to record a guitar-based album that captures the attention requires the sort of crossroads-pact based combination that only musicians of the calibre of Joe Satriani and Steve Vai can lay claim to. Julia Kosterova, however, has clearly been taking notes because her debut EP is an astonishing whirlwind of finger work coupled with that rare ability to serve the song (rather than have the song serve the musician) in a manner that keeps things fresh and interesting throughout the EPs 23 minute run time.
Part of Julia’s secret is her intuitive grasp of melody. The guitar pieces here are undeniably flash pieces of work, but throughout her solos serve to further the song in the absence of a vocalist with the result that the songs are not only awe-inspiring but also memorable pieces in their own right – the tunes don’t exist simply to bolster Julia’s ego. Part of this must surely be down to the involvement of keyboard legend Derek Sherinian who serves as keyboardist and producer and whose experience in the field is surely second to none. His jazzy flourishes are all over the record while in support Chris Buck, Rufus Philpot and Michael Devin all offer their talents on bass whilst Marco Minnemann the wonderful Brian Tichy lend their skill on drums. It’s one hell of an ensemble, and Julia’s intuition in gathering together musicians of such calibre only goes to show that she understands the necessity of having far more in place than just blistering solos.
Opening track ‘springs of time’ begins with some atmospheric background noise before storming into a tightly wound riff that mixes up vintage Dream Theater with Deep Purple before Julia unleashes a solo that simply sizzles out of the speakers. Backed by wildly inventive, jazz-infused percussive work there’s no question that Julia is influenced by the greats – John McLaughlin, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani are all referenced here – but that she also has her own deft, progressive touch to add. Most importantly the track rocks, meaning that you don’t have to be a virtuoso to appreciate the music here and at its most basic level it’s simply exciting to sit and listen to thanks to the astonishing skill of all involved. ‘The wave of luck’ has a fearsome groove, Rufas’ bass locked tight with Marco’s ever-impressive drumming as Julia simply blazes away on her fret-board. The track benefits from having a central riff that is as meaty as any hard rock anthem, whilst the sublime solo work conveys emotion as effectively as any histrionic vocal work. ‘Stranger’, which features percussive powerhouse Brian Tichy, is a raucous blast of jazz-inflected energy that gets the blood singing and the feet tapping. The instrumental work here is, across the board, simply mind-blowing and Julia is gracious enough to give each musician space to shine as the band roam across the musical landscape traversing everything from reggae to hard rock on their four and half minute journey. The final track ‘hi power’ is aptly titled, Marco (back behind the kit) unleashing numerous furious fills as Julia goes for broke with brutal riffs and hi-energy solos very much to the fore. It rounds out this all-too-brief EP and leaves you wanting more, a trick that any number of instrumental musicians should surely learn.
Overall this is one hell of an EP. While those who are left cold by the works of Steve Vai et al. may be advised to steer clear, Julia Kosterova has cleverly bought together an army of indisputably brilliant musicians and harnessed them to tracks of real power and feeling in order to keep her debut work very much at the head of the pack. This is a record to show to people who don’t believe virtuosos can produce music of passion and power and it highlights the fact that no matter how disposable the major labels may seek to make music, there will always be artists of wit and ability waiting in the wings to carry the torch for practice and perseverance over instant gratification. ‘Springs of time’ is, without doubt, one of the most enjoyable rides through a virtuoso musician’s talent you can hope to find and is well worth exploring.