At its best, fusion is a true emulsion of its component genres. It can turn staunch jazz traditionalists into blues-rock appreciators, no-nonsense funk fans into soprano sax worshippers and make a tune in 17/8 seem totally danceable. In other words, it’s much easier to accomplish in theory than in practice. On Tessellations, though, Suhy, Silvergold & Alvarado come as close to the ideal as is humanly possible.
This band consists of some remarkable players, and together, they form a tight and powerful unit. Ray Suhy, a Berklee-educated guitarist with a musical resumée nearly two decades long, is frighteningly nimble. His sweeps are so quick and clean, it’s almost impossible to tell where they begin and end, able to turn on a dime regardless of what’s going on around him. 16-year-old drummer Alex Silvergold possesses such chops, it isn’t hard to imagine him playing on Zoot Allures and subsequently nailed “The Black Page” if only he were born 40 years earlier. He covers a big kit, and his speed never comes at the cost of power or accuracy. Finally, Rolando Alvarado, who is as nimble on four strings as Suhy is on six, is well-suited for the aforementioned task of making zany time signatures feel comfy.
Alvarado wastes no time in proving this. After an intro that smacks of Jeff Beck at his most ambient, he kicks off “Malachite Dream” with a groovy ostinato in 11/8. Silvergold joins in with a pleasantly syncopated beat, sounding not the least bit stiff despite the inherent awkwardness of the meter. Suhy expertly uses the volume pot to coax swelling pads out of his guitar, and these give way to some snaky, Metheny-esque lines. Suddenly, the whole band launches into a tense bridge reminiscent of King Crimson’s “Red,” and just as suddenly (technically speaking, after three measures of 5/8 and one of 11/8), they’re back in the groove. After another verse and bridge, the band falls into 6/8 and Suhy gears up for a dynamic solo that, despite lasting almost one and a half minutes, does not in any way wear out its welcome. By the time whole band comes together to jam on the bass riff, it becomes clear that Suhy is no noodler. Rather, he’s an excellent composer with an ear for drama, and he’s picked the perfect rhythm section to join him in bringing his compositions to life.
If the album continued in the same stylistic vein as its impressive opening track, it might get stale. But the world will never know, because “Aphelion” changes gears immediately, bringing the band into territory that is simultaneously murkier and jazzier. After “Svítání,” a perfectly placed interlude featuring cascading sheets of acoustic guitar and double bass, the band changes gears again by blasting into the flamenco-inspired “Awakening.” At only two minutes and change, it’s definitely a song that bears repeating. Suhy’s playing is impeccable; thicker strings don’t slow him down at all.
“Temporal Landrons” is Suhy’s “Cliffs of Dover” or “Surfing with the Alien.” That is to say, it’s an upbeat, melodic sweep-fest with an epic solo at the top followed by more memorable licks. Minus the intro solo, “Perihelion” has the same trajectory, but it possesses a far jazzier backbone and therefore performs much better as a fusion piece.
The album is rounded out by two cool jazz numbers. The sorrowful and slinky “Spectral Cadence” begins with Alvarado, calm under the spotlight, flying up and down the fingerboard of his double bass with abandon before finally chilling on the root note. Suhy comes in with the theme, seemingly telling the story of a character at the end of their rope, using only a few notes. It’s stirring the way Miles’s version of “’Round Midnight” is, and given the proper exposure, it may even begin to seep into the repertoires of other musicians the way Monk’s flagship tune did. And speaking of untouchable jazz classics, Suhy, Silvergold & Alvarado’s cover of Coltrane’s “Wise One” is a killer way to end an album. Suhy echoes the composer – whose work turned him onto jazz in the first place – subtly and with great reverence, taking care to add enough grit without diving over the precipice on which Trane stood in ’64.
Suhy, Silvergold & Alvarado cover a lot of ground on Tessellations, and despite doing so with virtuosic prowess, they leave the humanity and dignity of Suhy’s compositions intact. Aptly titled, this album is not a convoluted mess of show off one-upmanship, nor is it lame or stiff in any way. It’s the sound of three fantastic musicians playing at the top of their game without stepping on each other’s toes; fusion at its best.