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Rhythm & Views

Various Artists

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It's tough to argue the merits of the motives behind A Guitar Supreme: Giant Steps in Fusion Guitar. And far be it from me to question the skills of these players--among them Larry Coryell, Eric Johnson, Frank Gambale and Robben Ford.

But most of the time, this all-star session of fusion axmen covering the music of John Coltrane is, well, a travesty. Generally, the players ignore the spirituality inherent in Coltrane's music--the cartoonish mystic collage of the cover notwithstanding--by merely playing the melodies and indulging in spacey, rock-influenced noodling.

Once upon a time, jazz-rock fusion wasn't such a dirty word. But fusion has evolved so little in the last 30 years that it has become as staid and conventional a musical genre as folk singer-songwriters and boy bands.

Although I had hope for this CD when putting it into player, it is a major disappointment--its approach invariably bringing to mind the more mediocre material of Jeff Beck and Steely Dan.

Producer and arranger Jeff Richman turns "Afro-Blue" into a blues-rock riffing session complete with snarling, fuzzed-out power chords. On "Giant Steps" and "Mr. Syms," Greg Howe so blatantly apes '70s fake-soul music that his style brings these landmark compositions creepily close in tone to the theme from Sanford & Son.

Mike Stern, usually a decent player, focuses on the cloying sentimentality of the melody from "My Favorite Things," defeating the whole purpose of Coltrane's cover of the pop standard, on which his playing defined the quest for artistic truth. An ignoble feat, this.

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