Bruce Arnold is the director of guitar studies at New York University and Princeton University. He is also the creator of the New York University Summer Guitar Intensive. Bruce Arnold’s recording credits include over twenty five CDs and DVDs, ranging from the standard jazz repertoire to free improvisation to the reinterpretations of classical music with the ensemble Spooky Actions. He has written more than 60 music instruction books covering Guitar Pedagogy, Ear Training and Time Studies. Arnold’s performance and recording activities include work with a wide array of studies. Now in this rock charged album Heavy Mental, Arnold combines the fire of rock along with blues and jazz harmony. Bassist Andy Galore and drummer Kirk Driscoll join Bruce Arnold in Heavy Mental.
The opening track 12 Tone Boogie is set in motion by the introduction of the guitar. Andy Galore plays along with the electric guitar at times in terms of similar notes on bass. The electric guitar is enormously full of life and vitality. I like the articulation of the guitar. A good steady beat gives the guitar room for independence. Wild, well timed soloing is hot enough to melt steel. The energy and force gets crazy as the piece continues. Bruce Arnold really shows his knowledge and skill of the electric guitar in this opening track. The musical range of the electric guitar is explored in stunning fashion. Ascending, chromatic passages are heard. 12 Tone Boogie rocks in the same raucous vein of Joe Satriani’s ZZ Top Homage Satch Boogie. This tune is very electrifying with lots of variation.
There is a recurring theme at the beginning that involves the drums, bass and electric guitar stopping at intervals in the second track Multiplicity. This tune is a slow blues progression brimming with wild whammy bar articulations, odd intervals and an onslaught of killer speed licks. You can definitely hear the blues framework early into the tune. Complex improvisation ring with resonance. The bass is really active with incredible dexterity. This blues tune has a pleasing, crazy quality. It is unique how Arnold takes the familiar blues form and turns it into a work that gives you so much to listen to. In this tune, I feel that the bass gives this track a funky vibe that carries this tune to great heights.
The fourth track Heard Instinct opens off with a reflective, shimmering feel than the previous tracks. You then hear a bass intro. This tune is a haunting minor key blues progression. Kirk Driscoll keeps the pulse thriving on the drums. The drum beats are played with a different manner than the preceding tracks. This tune is obviously more laid back than what was heard earlier. The electric guitar is really singing and keeping in step with the style of this piece. Arnold’s virtuosity is still flashy in some areas. Patterns embedded in ascending and descending lines are heard on the guitar. The bass also has a time to shine.
Blues for Arnie is a distortion-laced power ballad. This sixth track is a nod to Schoenberg who is one of the influences of Bruce Arnold. This piece kicks off with a solo guitar beginning. You can tell that an artful thought process is shaping the introduction. The electric guitar’s sustained tones vibrate with lots of sensation. Arnold has total command when he executes his runs. The force picks up with more authority. Fast passages of notes have direction that fit the overall harmony.
Different approaches to any genre of music help push the boundaries of music of any time period. We can call Heavy Mental a kind of jazz rock. Bruce Arnold’s background in classical music has no doubt influenced this album but he successfully combines the scorching touch of rock with the complex harmonies of jazz. The soulful qualities of the blues is also another important element in this album. Arnold wields the electric guitar as a kind of musical wand that transforms what you think you have heard to something familiar but tweaked. You need to listen to Heavy Mental and share in all of its thrilling moments.