Cameron Graves ‘Seven’ LP/CD (Mack Avenue) 5/5

I was always going to review this album. It was ordained by the powers and no matter the weight of homeschooling, work commitments or the rolling fatigue of Twitter, I had to make time for this. I am, you see, wholly obliged to review any music that has been, as this has, labelled ‘THRASH-JAZZ’.

As an old, socially-tribed, metalhead who grew into jazz via prog, fusion and soul music I am particularly sensitive to the ‘authenticity’ of any metal dabbling. I can smell ‘imposter’ on a players leather jacket from a Monsters of Rock stage away, and the very notion of my thrash being piano-led creates disconcerting visualisations of Keane doing a Middle-England-mosh through Master of Puppets.

But here we are with Cameron Graves’ piano-led thrash-jazz, ‘Seven’. I just had to review it. So, arms-folded across my covid-lockdown torso I say “go on then lads, play hard and let me sniff your jackets.”

Immediately, “Sacred Spheres” charmingly challenges my mardy-arsed rules of engagement. Drummer Mike Mitchell throws down some broken hardcore for the band to angular (more obtuse than acute) riff on. Then Colin Cook’s descending guitar part and Graves’ chugging piano takes us through time sig shifts and some rapid-fire, single note stuff before we arrive at a gloriously swelling fusion landscape with atmospheric, effected guitar and fizzy, sprinkling percussive exploration that finally builds into a return to riff #1.

‘Paradise Trinity’ has a breezy, Vince Guaraldi buoyancy led by its essential dancing, probing bassline. Expanding at the halfway point into a wonderful bright springtime energy, it compellingly moves from gliding to darting to floating with guest Kamasi Washington delivering delicious potency. It’s blue skies, clear sinuses and bright eyes. Gorgeous.

The album’s first true bit of metal epic-n-stun is delivered by ‘Sons of Creation’. The hard riffing is fun though; playful, not dark. The souls playing this aren’t that troubled and the scales are less western cold-climate more Latin/eastern maritime warmth. Cook delivers a delightfully fluid solo of runs, bends and arpeggios.

‘Seven’ starts with a Van Halen ‘Right Now’ power-peddle piano bit before some Cook Schon-esque volume slurs; bags of tasty, teasing, wait-for-it, brinkmanship snare; and more Kamasi sympathetic stylings. ‘Seven’ is so my kind of track: short, sweet and eye-closingly uplifting.

Ever heard Jimmy Webb do metal? That’s the intro to ‘The Life Carriers’. Then it’s frantic power riffing of car chase level excitement. Relenting only for four of the most involving, overflowing, expansive chords you’ll ever hear, which they repeat a few times for rightful glory-basking before we get back into the riff & the frantic dance. Rollicking stuff.

‘Super Universes’ is thrilling. Fierce and tight as a duck’s with a tiny taste of doom. Mitchell is all over this thing, personally delighting me with his slipping-down-the-steps-a-bit at 1:45. It’s even got a Kansas-vibed, proggy break. Faultless.

‘Red’ does that favourite thrash dynamic of heavy then light then heavy. Ferocious, messy and aggressive then a dramatically embracing, classically-styled walkabout and then…gwwoooooaaarrr!!!!

The deeply moving, emotionally articulate ‘Fairytales’ is well placed in the running order. Graves’ solo piano piece affords a moment for reflection and admiration. His playing is deft and sensitive. A therapeutic breather amongst the dynamics.

Then we’re back in. Mad syncopation and heroic time sigs fire up the eye-widening 2 minutes that is ‘Master Spirits’. Cook fluently slurs and blurs again and Mitchell does much fire and I can’t help but grin. All. The. Way. Through. It.

‘Mansion Worlds’ is a metallic period drama. It’s flamboyant, an eastern European palace with staff serving caviar to high society in their wigs and frills and that. A remarkable end to the instrumental tracks on this album.

The final two tracks are totally unexpected.

‘Eternal Paradise’ starts with some, totally expected, hardcore riffing but then pops into a Grave lead vocal that conjures Dream Theatre versus a Styxian, Christian musical theatre production. Now that might not mean anything to you or even if it does mean something that something might be a bad something, but trust me…it’s magical. BloodVeryGood indeed.

Finally, we have the genius-arranged, Beatles cover, ‘Getting Better’. It’s not right for this album but, then again, it is so, so right for this album. It’s a heartwarming, West Coast soul bombardment of smiling, heartfelt optimism. Contagious. The chorus bobs along with sunny Graham Nash harmonies and there’s a guitar solo that Donald Fagen would’ve paid good money for. Also, Max Gerl’s spanky bass breaks and there are party bubbles filling the air. God, this song makes me so happy.

OK. What to say? This is a musical melting pot whirlwind. Each track hits that 3 minutes-ish sweet spot; clear message, get in, get out, do the most damage. It isn’t remotely serious or cerebral but it is clever, earnest, optimistic and spiritual. It’s very heavy and educated in the ways of metal; yes, their jackets do smell authentic. And Mike Mitchell deserves the 2021 Pearl-Ludwig Golden Cowbell.

It is a truly remarkable album that I had challenged to impress, which it did in spades. It’s unique, exciting and endearing and I believe every single second of it. All of it works so well that it excites me to think what Graves might achieve next as he takes these disparate influences further and further.

Also, I personally want to thank him for enabling me to reference Keane, Jimmy Webb and Monsters of Rock in a single UK Vibe review.

Ian Ward

Read also:
Cameron Graves ‘Planetary Prince’ CD (Mack Avenue) 3/5