Not that there’s anything wrong with the heavy grooves and soulful solos by Metalwood and guests John Scofield, Mino Cinelu and DJ Logic that appeared on The Recline. But it was an album based heavily on rhythm, and lacked the harmonic depth and strength of their earlier disks. Recorded live in the studio in just a day-and-a-half with no guests, Chronic better displays the strength and chemistry that has developed between the four members of the group.
Compared to The Recline, Chronic is a darker, denser record. The group acknowledges that it is heavily informed by Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius. But over the course of six years and as many records, Metalwood has developed a voice all their own. Take "Priority #1", which opens sounding like something from Night Passage-era Weather Report but then moves into something altogether more contemporary, with an intense bass and drums groove which builds and builds until, when it finally releases, you are almost left gasping for air.
Every member of the group contributes to the overall sound, but drummer Ian Froman provides an underpinning that drives this band in different directions than your typical fusion outfit. Froman comes primarily from an acoustic jazz background, and it shows. He has managed to merge influences as diverse as Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Jon Christensen into a personal style that literally lights a fire underneath the rest of the group, and pushes them to play in a freer style. While some fusion bands wear their rock roots on their sleeves, it is the jazz roots of Metalwood that are most evident.
Bassist Chris Tarry is high in the mix, making the comparison with Jaco-era Weather Report even more compelling. Trumpet/Keyboardist Brad Turner, who writes the majority of the material on Chronic, contributes an homage to Joe Zawinul in the poignant ballad "Venus", complete with Mike Murley’s Shorter-like soprano sax lines.
But where Weather Report became increasingly more electronic, structured and groove oriented as time went on, Metalwood retains the looser, more improvisational feel of an acoustic jazz quartet. The difference is they have a broader palette of textures to work with.
For those people who discovered Metalwood with The Recline, Chronic is a chance to hear the band working more to their strengths. Arguably the strongest record of their career, Chronic will compel existing fans to broaden themselves musically, while at the same time attract new fans that are looking for intelligent fusion with a difference.