BOZZIO LEVIN STEVENS -- Black Light Syndrome (Magna Carta)

Magna Carta has quite a reputation around prog rock circles these days for their excellent tribute CDs--more so than their discs from individual artists. This CD could quite possibly change all that. Black Light Syndrome is the first (and hopefully not the last) CD from Terry Bozzio, Tony Levin, and Steve Stevens. When you look at the names of the band members, one name seems oddly out of place. Terry Bozzio is one of the best drummers around--playing with the likes of Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, and UK. Tony Levin is best known for his bass work with King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, and a host of assorted session gigs. Steve Stevens has played with Billy Idol, Michael Jackson, and Robert Palmer. My long-standing impression of Stevens was little more than big hair with a whammy bar. All flash, no passion. It didn't take long for him to prove me wrong, though. Stevens not only had the chops necessary to keep up with Bozzio and Levin; there are several instances on the CD where Stevens is clearly the 'star' player.

Out of the CD's seven tracks (all instrumental), only one is less than eight minutes long. The songs were 'spontaneously composed' by all three musicians over four days in January. Stevens and Levin did various overdubs to provide the assorted textures on Black Light Syndrome, but the basic tracks were recorded live in one or two takes. "The Sun Road" was the first track recorded, and at just under fifteen minutes, the longest track on the CD. In this particular case, the second take was 'it.' Stevens' multi-textured guitar work is superb throughout, along with Bozzio's manic drumming. "Dark Corners" is one of the many highlights. Stevens kicks the track into gear with distorted guitar, and then Levin & Bozzio pound out the basic riff. After some killer guitar work, they come to a screeching halt, and go into a brief acoustic interlude. A cool bass and drum improv follows, before going back into the basic chord progression.

Levin kicks off "Duende" with a quick solo on the fretless bass, but the song is a showcase for Stevens' flamenco guitar work. Bozzio's drumming and percussion on the track is outstanding. Several of the tunes have a definite fusion flavor to them. Brand X fans, in particular, will love the title track. The song contains four alternating sections--two that sound like a Jeff Beck song, and two that sound like Brand X at their darkest and best. Another song with a strong fusion influence is "Falling in Circles," which sounds like a cut from Bill Bruford's excellent One of a Kind album. This one rocks. "Book of Hours" starts with an acoustic intro, then eventually builds into one of the best songs on the disc. The final track, "Chaos/Control" is reminiscent of Frank Zappa. The chord progressions, drumming, and guitar work all echo with elements of 'His Frankness.'

Black Light Syndrome is the best CD of its kind to come out in several years. Anyone who appreciates good fusion, or instrumental rock, will unquestionably find something here they like. If you're not familiar with this type of music, this is the perfect CD to test the waters.

In case you have trouble finding Black Light Syndrome in your local record store, you can order it direct from Magna Carta through their web site. Point your browser here for more information on Bozzio Levin Stevens or any of the other Magna Carta artists

© 1997 Steve Marshall