“Chem-Co” is the tenth or eleventh solo release by American guitar virtuoso Michael Harris (depending on if you chose to include “Hurricane X”, to the discography or not). Michael Harris an often criminally overlooked player that while can shred with the best of them, opts to visit more adventurous jazz or fusion laden, chroma rich pastures. Obviously his solo work, his VS live album with Chastain, Darkology, Arch Rival, Thought Chamber and other projects have kept him busy and are a reason for his modest, but pretty fanatical following.
Ever present on these experiments are his brother, drummer Brian Harris and bassists Adam Nitti and Jeff Plant. There’s really a great variety in the album, but melody and a feel good factor are the common denominator of the compositions, chemical and musical as well!
“Nuclear Tri-fusion” starts off, rather busy and proggy, something that would cater to the more “traditional” prog metal fan, with fluid, melodic fusion-y solos that exhibit Harris’s trademark style, as much as almost everything else he’s ever done. Actually towards the end, things lax, decidedly, giving a nice pass to the much funkier and groovy “Earth Elements” that is pretty awesome and in my mind feels like a perfect balance between Satch and LTE (if not a little simpler), a piece so awesome, I had it of repeat, multiple times, before moving on to the next, to really, appreciate, it’s intricate and delicious middle’s zanny-ness.
“Surface Tension” is spaced out and trippy, at least initially and it feels as if Steve Vai and David Gilmour, had a baby of sorts. With things going pretty lopsided past the intro, coalescing in a hot amalgam of Punky Jazzy Prog Rock that’s quite irresistible.
“Anti-Gravity” is a spaced out bluesy jam that’s brilliant and set’s up perfectly the follow up by “Nitro Burn Down”, which feels like Satriani on steroids. All the melody, all the cool notes, all the fluidity just delivered with an obnoxious dose of nitrous oxide. It’s pretty anthemic in the way that “The Extremist” is…. and I guess that statement says it all. The solo, probably overindulges just a bit, but everything else is so awesome, that one can’t help but to love both the scope as well as the execution.
“Augmentia” goes back to the odd, prog style of MH, rather dark and mysterious, but quite slick and sophisticated at the same time, with things quickly escalating towards the middle and some somewhat lamenting soloing ensuing further down the song. And those crazy often semi-acoustic inventions, which pretty much work themselves into an outro… it’s probably one of the most thick 6,5 minute songs you’ve heard in a while.
Calling your track “The Acid Jazz Trip” shouldn’t need a translation. A jammy, trippy, jazzy number with some sublime guitar tones is what it is; It mixes up Hendrixesque snazziness, with Zappesque craziness and Vaiesque, gusto, but does so, without coming apart at the seams, feeling pretty effortless (I mean if only my jams were anywhere near this cool :D).
“Identity Crisis (Retorched)” is an obvious reworking of that “song” from “Distorted Views” with the main idea, remaining pretty much there, but everything else sounding edgier, funkier and groovier.
“Resonance” is another laid back tune, let me call it… smart, new age fusion. It ain’t lame, like a lot of new age stuff is, but it knows better than to waste a beautiful lick, so it allows the track to grow organically and without obstruction and just injects it with a little extra oomph during the solo in the most transparent of ways possible. A thing of beauty, really.
Last but not least, “Dopamine Swing” lays down a pretty big funky swing and rocks back and for the pretty nicely, with some awesome guitar interplay… as good a closer, as any could be.
While, I honestly think that Michael Harris has written better compositions, as per se, I do think that “Chemical Compositions” is one of the nicest, easiest, most accessible, mature and complete works by this great musician, without making any compromises, however.
In a year when Satch and Vai released some pretty neat pieces of work, this little set, doesn’t feel like a poor relative, but seems able to stand on its own, competing for a spot in the limelight.
If you like guitar, you’re bound to love this album, which shows what one can achieve through proper mastery of the instrument.