Derek Sherinian - 'Oceana'

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Derek Sherinian - 'Oceana'

My favourite Derek Sherinian album thus far.

It could justifiably be argued that instrumental albums by keyboard players was primarily a seventies phenomenon, where prime exponents like Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson would fill time between stints with their main bands by recording some (self-indulgent?) music of their own. However, no-one seems to have explained this unwritten law to Derek Sherinian, the workaholic ivory tinkler currently employed by both Black Country Communion and Billy Idol, who has had previous spells with Alice Cooper, Kiss, Yngwie Malmsteen, Platypus and of course Dream Theater, along with his own project, Planet X. Amazingly, in addition to these, ‘Oceana’ is his seventh solo album in eleven years, each one featuring a veritable who’s who ofaccompanying talent. What’s unique about Sherinian is he’s influenced just as much by guitarists as he is by keyboard players, and with some of the aggressive keyboard sounds he uses it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s guitar or keys, so maybe that’s why he’s managed to make his solo albums a profitable endeavour.

‘Oceana’ sees Sherinian heading further in a melodic fusion direction, with the same high standard of musicianship as past efforts but with more emphasis on accessible melodies and far less on his metal side - usually due to the involvement of Zakk Wylde. Again he’s written a majority of the tunes with his co-producer and mixer, Toto drummer Simon Phillips, and sometimes in tandem with the guitarist who plays on particular songs, like BCC bandmate Joe Bonamassa (the bluesy ‘I Heard That’) and Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich (the funky ‘El Camino Diablo’). Similarly, the two tracks featuring the great Steve Stevens are partly written by the guitarist: the superbly atmospheric title track and the lively Jeff Beck-like ‘Ghost Runner’(on which Stevens manages to sneak in a few bars of one of his more iconic Billy Idol refrains among the Beck/Jan Hammer–like trade-offs).

Opening fusion monster ‘Five Elements’ features Tony MacAlpine’s nimble fingers, but as well as being one of the most complex pieces of music, is also one of the most immediate, and MacAlpine also gets a touch of the Beck’s on the simpler ‘Mercury 7’. A regular collaborator with Sherinian is Toto legend Steve Lukather, whose playing on ‘Mulholland’, ‘Euphoria’ and ‘Seven Seas’ is mesmerising, heartfelt and totally in-keeping with the kind of album Sherinian and Phillips have set out to make. Of course none of this would work if Sherinian didn’t hold up his end of the bargain, but there are no problems on that score as his virtuosity matches that of his guests and his writing is always challenging and interesting, each of these songs having the kind of hooks imperative for instrumental music to maintain ones interest throughout.

Both production and mix are superb, with real warmth to the instruments and a special resonance to Phillips’ drums, and with Tony Franklin and Jimmy Johnson both playing some expressive bass (check out Franklin’s fretless runs on the title track!), it all makes for my favourite Derek Sherinian album thus far.

Phil Ashcroft

 

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