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One-time Santana guitarist and stalwart Journey axeman Neal Schon has arrived back on the scene in a solo capacity with another offering in the form of 'The Calling'. Performing all guitars and bass himself (as well as a little electric sitar), ex-Journey sticksman Steve Smith has assumed drumming duties; composer, producer and keyboardist Igor Len features on acoustic piano; and the legendary Jan Hammer, with whom Schon has previously collaborated, contributes Moog to a couple of tracks. A purely instrumental affair, 'The Calling' is a fairly diverse beast containing twelve cuts coloured with the stylistic disparity that's characterised Schon's long and varied career. So we have classic rock, blues, funk, jazz fusion, prog and moments of guitar-centric ambience. And the album shines through its diversity; meandering through, and switching, genres with pleasingly stimulating results - a quality that's key to the success of any instrumental album.

As one would expect, it's Schon's guitar licks and solos that largely dominate proceedings - after all, this is billed as a Neal Schon solo record - although the sonic backdrop over which he exercises his fretboard dynamic is not merely dismissive muzak. Rather 'The Calling' has a series of well-composed, skilfully executed and produced/mixed instrumental pieces that Schon has adorned with his lead work. With the calibre of musician involved, I suppose this is a given, although Len and Smith should be given equal credit for the resultant music. Notably, Len's acoustic piano on 'Carnival Jazz' is rather astounding, and Smith's drumming shines during the more up-tempo passages, providing a solid impetus for the tracks. Then there's Jan Hammer's Moog synths which are particularly magnificent on the prog/fusion piece 'Fifty Six', bringing to mind his work with jazz/rock fusion pioneer John McLaughlin in the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In this sense, it's refreshing to see Schon integrating and utilising Hammer's talents in an apposite context rather than merely recruiting him for a random guest slot. Hammer only appears on two tracks but he certainly makes his mark.

The emotions at the core of the music, though, are largely conveyed through Schon's soloing, and his guitar sounds at its most poignantly stirring on 'Blue Rainbow Sky' with a beautifully warm tone and melody-driven leads. A tribute to Ronnie James Dio which, in Schon's words, is centred around "the night he died outside my house - the sky was blue and it's that feeling that was the inspiration for the recording", it's a captivating piece and heartfelt tribute. That's just one example, though, as Schon's affectively expressive playing covers a whole gamut of emotions on an album that has much to offer through, at times, a mixed palette of instrumental music that should excite the casual listener as much as the muso hordes who thrive on this sort of thing.
Frontiers Records
Review by Mark Holmes
22nd Oct 2012
1) The Calling; 2) Carnival Jazz
3) Six String Waltz
4) Irish Field
5) Black Smash
6) Fifty Six
7) True Emotion
8) Tumbleweeds
9) Primal Surge
10) Blue Rainbow Sky
11) Transonic Funk
12) Song of the Wind II
"A purely instrumental affair, 'The Calling' is a fairly diverse beast containing twelve cuts coloured with the stylistic disparity that's characterised Schon's long and varied career."