The Realm of the Guitar Gods continues to be inhabited long after its time had supposedly ended. However, a new wing has to be added to accommodate the electric violin of Susan Aquila. As virtuosos go, she’s right at the top, but sounding sometimes like Jean Luc Ponty but just as often like Alvin Lee or Joe Satriani. With feet in both the rock and classical worlds, she seems at first an unlikely candidate to end up on a fusion album, but here she is, and the results are quite spectacular.
Aquila has played with lots of rock personalities, including Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin, and Metallica, as well as pop artists Alicia Keys, John Mayer, and Josh Groban. She recently had millions of YouTube hits just by being in the band behind Susan Boyle. Aquila has also performed in classical chamber groups and on Broadway. Versatility would certainly seem to be her stock in trade. With Planet Z she sticks more to a fusion mode, varying from somewhat jazzy to full out rock, with a fine group of musicians who are of like mind. Her lines are clean and crisp (no sludge here) on her Viper 6-string electric violin.
Robert Tomaro is the other star here, who provides guitar as well as composing all of the tunes. He rocks out nicely as well, also with a foot in both classical and jazz worlds, having performed with Charles Mingus and Bill Evans, and done his share of orchestral conducting. One can tell from the title “Appellation Sproing,” a play on Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” that they’re having fun with the music, although I don’t hear much similarity in the two pieces otherwise. The doubling of drums with both Ray Marchica and Paul Pizzuti makes for a raucous rhythmic display, lending towards complexity in multiple layers on most tunes. Tomaro and Aquila trade solos on several pieces such as the above-mentioned tune and the opener, “Bombay Express” with considerable intensity and drive. The whole affair reminds me of some tunes by the 70s group the Dixie Dregs, but updated in style.
Most of the tunes are high-energy raves, but a couple are slower and more contemplative, and they provide a good change of pace from the other five tracks and make the whole sequence of songs flow beautifully. In all, this is a fine album which some folks will hear as fusion and others will perceive as rock. Either way, the result is an excellent first release for this fine band.