It’s been said that writing about music is a bit like dancing about architecture. When you’re talking about one of the most accomplished musicians and composers working today, this observation is something of an understatement. When discussing an artistic and challenging achievement like Trevor Rabin’s Jacaranda, a writer really has to strain for on-target adjectives and terms to describe this richly varied and multi-dimensional musical soundscape.
To begin, South African-born Trevor Rabin has worked with the likes of Seal, Michael Jackson, Manfred Mann, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, and Paul Rodgers. He’s best known for his award-winning tenure with Yes as guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He’s composed film scores for Armageddon, Remember the Titans, National Treasure, Get Smart, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. For Jacaranda, Rabin composed all 12 songs, arranged and produced the entire album, and with a few exceptions played all the multi-layered instruments himself.
While Rabin’s world-class guitar work is the driving force of the album, his first studio release since 1989’s Can’t Look Away, he shows off his considerable keyboard chops as well. He does turn to some accomplished players to give him versatile rhythmic support, notably drummers Lou Molino III, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Rabin’s son Ryan Rabin (on the appropriately titled “Me and My Boy”). All that’s missing are any guest appearances from fellow Yes alumni or any of Rabin’s signature vocals.
Now for some architecture dancing, that is, attempting to describe the music of Jacaranda. On one level, one might be reminded of The Dixie Dregs, especially the Steve Morse (guitar) and Mark Parrish (keyboards) jazz/rock fusions and their Southern flavor. Likewise, many of Rabin’s performances easily fit under the jazz and fusion umbrella. His love of the Dobro, which he uses on nearly every track, gives his compositions hints of bluegrass and rockabilly instrumentations. But you’ve never heard this recipe in any form like this before.
Rock roots are evident from the start as well. Fast-fingered, note-bending, interweaving guitars and shifting tempos introduce “Spider Boogie,” which features Yes-like keyboards. In fact, several tracks sound a bit like what might have happened if Yes recorded an album in Nashville, wanting to bring some Americana into their mix. Tracks like “Through The Tunnel” open with pedal-steel guitars before soaring with electric runs that Jeff Beck would envy. Likewise, “The Branch Office” sounds like what might have happened if Beck had been backed by Led Zeppelin’s rhythm section. Speaking of Beck, the British blues/rock/jazz fusion pioneer’s former bass guitarist, Tal Wilkenfeld, guests on “Anerley Road.”
But the versatility of Jacaranda goes well beyond nods to Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, etc. “Market Street,” “Storks Bill Geranium Waltz,” and “Freethought” reach back to the more traditional Les Paul, Wes Montgomery, and Django Reinhardt school of picking melodies. One standout, “Rescue,” is far more symphonic. Orchestral instrumentation and ethereal vocals from Liz Constintine segue into affirming power chords and an extended piano solo evocative of Mr. J.S. Bach. It’s like a cinematic overture, a track inspired by the film The Guardian, for which Rabin contributed to the score.
One distinction between the brilliant, beautiful Jacaranda, and other sets showcasing virtuoso players, is the tightness of the compositions. This isn’t an album of jams and improvisations. Some tracks are extremely short. All have an obvious framework with beginnings, middle sections, and conclusions, often with wildly different time signatures and tones. When three or more complex melody lines are performed simultaneously, there’s no need to stretch out the time. One of the primary delights of this album, in fact, is listening to the multi-tracked parts and hearing how they’ve been integrated into such jaw-dropping, cohesive wholes. One suspects a live performance of any of these selections is virtually impossible unless Rabin would bring aboard players of equal ability, such as his Yes compatriots.
Jacaranda is for music lovers of any genre. Period. It’s astonishing, haunting, passionate, powerful, and an experience that transcends any expectations, even for devotees of Rabin’s past work. After hearing Jacaranda, you’ll fully understand how difficult it is to dance about architecture.