Review: Sokoband “Sokoband”

Sokoband “Sokoband”

19 Dec, 2010 Gary Hill

The easiest way to describe the sound of Sokoband in a short phrase would be “smooth fusion grooves.” That works to a degree, but really their sound is a lot more diverse than that. In fact, one of the things that keep this disc from reaching a higher degree of perfection is that at times it seems that Sokoband can’t decide where they want to focus their musical energies. Pair that with the fact that a lot of the music seems that it would be at home in the background and you’ll have nailed the only two complaints about the CD.

One need look no further than the opener, “Coast to Coast,” to find an example of the varying qualities of the album. It definitely fits into a category that one might consider “background music.” That said, there are some extremely impressive performances by all involved. In terms of fusion being too tight a constriction, that is shown on “Coast to Coast,” too. While overall the song is in keeping with a fusion motif that’s not that far removed from the sounds of Pat Metheny, a guitar solo much like something Steve Howe would play with Yes brings it more into the progressive rock realm. A track like “Your Steps Alone” stays firmly focused on the smooth jazz elements. Even, then, they manage to pull a bit of soulful groove into it.

“Jiriki” is the odd man out on the set. While apparently the group understood that an album of all instrumentals can become a bit boring, the way they solved it seems to fit with the rest of the set like a square peg in a round hole. A big chunk of the piece features the same kind of jazz found throughout, but it suddenly changes out to something that feels like a Dave Matthews song. Of course, the fact that Mr. Matthews himself provides the vocals could have something to do with that. While it’s entertaining, it just seems a bit contrived.   Arguably the fifth track, “Energy Charged” is the strongest piece. As the title suggests it has a lot more energy than the rest of the music. It moves out into some rather progressive rock like territory (references to Yes are again appropriate), too. It’s one place where the disc doesn’t seem content to sit in the background. In fact, it works out towards some seriously hard rocking territory that will likely catch the attention of most listeners.

Another highlight takes things in a different direction on “Body Home,” which has a mellow jazzy groove that’s not that far removed from some of Sting’s solo work. The addition of symphonic instrumentation is a nice touch, too.  An even mellower piece, “Lullaby for E,” stands out because of the beautiful melody and overall tone. It has a slow jazz tempo and the piano drives much of the melodic structure. While it’s sedate it manages to stand out of the shadows because that melody line is compelling and catchy. They bring in more layers of energy and instrumentation as they carry on, but the song is never really reinvented, but rather intensified.

Overall, this is a good release from Sokoband. It has some moments that are extremely strong, and it also would be nice to hear a little more demanding a musical presence from these guys. Overall, this is a release that will entertain fans of mellow jazz, although “Jiriki” might lead to some head-scratching confusion. It’s not all that highly recommended for serious listening, though. It just tends to fade a bit too far away.

Review by Gary Hill
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)