Philadelphia was full of first-rate hard boppers and post-boppers in the 1990s - everyone from tenor saxman Larry McKenna and trumpeter John Swana to guitarist Jimmy Bruno - but fusion and pop-jazz were hard to find in that city. One of the best fusion bands playing Philly and southern New Jersey in the late 1990s was Common Ground, which is in good to excellent form on its second album, Not Enough Space. With core members Chris Farr (tenor and soprano sax) and Erik Sayles (guitar) joined by drummer extraordinaire Dennis Chambers, as well as keyboardist Dan Zank and electric bassist James Genus, the sparks fly. Ground's aggressive blend of jazz, rock and funk often brings to mind Scott Henderson & Tribal Tech, and hard-edged numbers like "Drop Zone" and "Scrub" illustrated the fact that fusion still has a lot of possibilities. Fans of improvisatory, creative fusion (as opposed to radio-oriented "crossover" or "jazzy pop") should make a point of searching for this disc.
All Music Guide
Two listens and I became hooked on Common Ground, a clever fusion duo consisting of saxophonist Chris Farr from Philadelphia and guitarist Erik Sayles of Connecticut. This is the pair's second release, and it also features monster drummer Dennis Chambers, talented bassist James Genus, keyboardist Dan Zank, and percussionist Brian Farr.
Chris Farr and Erik Sayles weren't aiming for snooze-jazz radio with this one, because "not enough space" combines the guitar-driven intensity of Tribal Tech with the improvisational melodicism of the Yellowjackets. These six musicians play with a great deal of rhythmic fervor and jazzy intelligence on this 52-minute CD. It doesn't hurt that Genus and Chambers are masters of the fusion genre, and they're really at the top of their game here.
All eight tracks are solid. "Scrub" sounds like a funky Mike Stern composition, and it showcases some neat soloing from both Farr and Sayles. "Six" is remindful of the Yellowjackets, right down to its trumpet-like synth. Farr provides a serpentine soprano solo on the title track, which is also a great forum for Chambers' awesome skin work. "Up" starts out with some boppish riffing, then it turns along varying tempos while offering cool solos from Sayles and Zank. Sayles' playing is loud and contortedly bluesy - he's sort of a cross between Mike Stern and Allan Holdsworth - while Farr's tenor brings to mind Michael Brecker. He sounds even better on soprano.
It might take a few listens before "not enough space" completely wins you over, but it's well worth the effort. You won't hear many new
- Ed Kopp,