Magna Carta Records, USA

Not entirely sure how organic this highly complex, often blistering keyboard-based trio is, but frankly Niacin (Dennis Chambers, drums; John Novello, organs, synths, electric piano; Bill Sheehan, electric bass) hearkens back to a time when long hair, codpieces, lunatic time signatures, and hourlong etudes concerning the life/death dialectic in its many forms ruled the pop music charts (that was the 1970s, for those of you who were late getting to the party).

I guess the Jazz signifiers I hear on Organik are mostly of the Jimmy Smith organ trio variety (not unlike Emerson, Lake, and Palmer or the Tony Williams Lifetime), and let's not forget Medeski Martin and Wood's far earthier keys trio explorations of more recent vintage.

But to be honest Niacin would be somewhat more at home in what is referred to as the "neo-prog rock" or "neo-fusion" categories than here at Jazz Now. It's a question of how you may react to this combination of gutbucket bass, splattering drums, and avalanche upon avalanche of Hammond B3 and synth arpeggios.

For what it is, it's very good. Problem is, this reviewer left this sort of music behind decades ago. To be fair, and that would be preferable, this is my problem, not Niacin's. I do hear a hot take on the dear if departed Frank Zappa's cheery psycho theme "King Kong" herein (with a Sheehan bass break that will blow out your windows), and neither the musicianship nor the quality of the mix could be higher.

There are catchy melodies aplenty as well ("Barbarian @ the Gate," "Nemesis," "Stumble on the Truth"). So for what it is, it's excellent.

My disconnect to "prog" began one day when I followed the music to its logical conclusion and noted that even if King Crimson turned me on to Bartok, Yes to Stravinsky, Genesis to Vaughan Williams, the bands themselves only matured to a certain sophistication and no farther.

We recall the emperor in Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus telling Mozart that his writing was quite good but had "too many notes." Mozart answers that the opera His Excellency has just seen had no more or less than necessary. Well... there it is. Question of taste.

Prog rock equally often had a certain show-off quality to it in that like all youth-oriented musics, bravura became surfeit even if the need for that many notes could be justified. Which often in prog it wasn't.

The veritable tsunami of them one experiences in, say, ELP's twenty-minute 1971 epic Tarkus is designed to overwhelm the listener just as an earlier rock band like Black Sabbath or the Mahavishnu Orchestra attempted to do using loud, abrasive guitars. Doesn't work for me any more. But I will put this CD on when I want a bit of the old guilty pleasure syndrome.

A real honest-to-Pete funk riff doesn't show here until songs eleven ("No Shame") and twelve ("Clean House"). And pretty good ones at that. Up until then you may well admire the precision and the songs' intricacy, but the blitz of time signature changes, wild solos and so forth may prove dizzying. Do not drive or operate machinery with this on unless you know what to expect!

The only pieces with vocals here, "Nemesis" and "Club Soda," utilize a chorus patch on a sampler keyboard rig, I believe, but the human touch is welcome, and the hooks remain hard and insistent.

Be forewarned; if you came to Jazz via fusion music like I did (from Soft Machine, Return to Forever and Brand X to Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, and Gil Evans) this may float your boat. And then again it may not. Niacin can play. They can kick A, and for an entire CD at a clip. It's just a question of what you want your music to do for you.

By Kenneth Egbert