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CD REVIEW: STEVE VAI – Modern Primitive

| 9 August 2016 | Reply

CD REVIEW: STEVE VAI – Modern Primitive
24 June, 2016
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Steve Vai - Modern Primitive

In contemplating the 25th anniversary of his seminal Passion & Warfare album – certainly the moment when his creative and commercial aspirations collided most fruitfully, rewarding him with a U.S. Gold album – guitar shaman Steve Vai dug deep into the vaults to assemble not only a remastered reissue of the record itself, but also what he terms a ‘companion disc,’ Modern Primitive.

It’s crammed full of music “written or recorded in between my first solo record Flex-Able [1984] and my second solo record, Passion and Warfare [1990],” he explains in the extensive liner notes.

Vai goes on to state that, “the music on Flex-Able is so vastly different from Passion and Warfare that one could wonder if the same guy actually made both records,” before explaining that, “Modern Primitive is the missing link between these two records. It’s sort of Cro-Magnon Vai.”

It’s an interesting point to make. Having worked for Frank Zappa as a transcriptionist and then band member for several years before releasing that first, highly original and experimental record, and he then went on to make albums and tour with first David Lee Roth and then Whitesnake.

Passion and Warfare saw Vai utilising what he’d learnt about commercial song structure with those then mega-stadium acts, applying these lessons to his exploratory, experimental playing style, resulting in what was, as previously mentioned, his biggest solo commercial success.

Having left Roth when he refused to play hit single Just Like Paradise every night, it was clear that commerciality was never Vai’s priority, and his many solo albums and work with the G3 and G4 guitarist ensembles since have repeatedly proven that he prefers to work at the fringe of what is commercially expected, breaking new ground rather than rehashing the same chords in a chart-friendly fashion.

The Modern Primitive disc herein is a treat for Vai fans. There are early versions of some tracks, a bunch of songs from The Classified band (featuring Stu Hamm, Tommy Mars, Sue Mathis and Chris Frazier) which were never released or even never recorded. There is the “odd and beautiful” guitar synthesiser experiment Bop!, songs featuring “impossible chords” (where a second person adds a sixth finger to the fretboard), songs that are more jazz workout than rock n’ roll, a song featuring Vais “favourite singer” Devin Townsend, songs that grew from “homework assignments in my harmony class while attending Berklee”, and a stunning three-part work from the Classified called Pink And Blows Over.

There’s no guarantee that those who hold Passion and Warfare up as their favourite Vai record will love Modern Primitive. There’s probably many who prefer his more experimental boldly-going-where-no-one-has-gone-before work to those more traditional song structures. But whichever way you look at it, this is a magnificent collection for fans of the man whose guitar playing – arguably more than anyone other than Carlos Santana – manages to marry astonishing technical ability with exquisite beauty and spiritual magic.

Category: CD Reviews

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