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This article was originally published in issue #12
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Just in case you thought the ‘supergroup’ was a 1960s/70s phenomenon, iGuitar would like to remind you that the idea is very much alive and kicking today - and never more so than with the Aristocrats, with guitar duties held down by the astonishing Guthrie Govan! We’re proud to bring you world exclusive footage of the band live on stage and, just to whet your appetites, Levi Clay offers his thoughts as to why you really do have to stand in awe of this latest example of transatlantic alchemy.
It seems as the months go by we have the pleasure of covering more and more supergroups here at iGuitar, from Joe Satriani’s Chickenfoot to Steve Morse with Flying Colours. It’s always a pleasure to listen to bands of this calibre as you know you’re going to be getting the absolute cream of the crop, all on one recording, and no band exemplifies this as well as the Aristocrats. Born completely by chance at the winter NAMM show’s Anaheim Bass Bash 2011; Bryan Beller and Marco Minnemann were set to play a one off show with fusion master Greg Howe, but when Greg sadly had to pull out the first guy he recommended was UK guitar star Guthrie Govan. After just one rehearsal and the gig the band left the stage reeling from their chemistry, not only did they groove well, but they had an almost telepathic level of communication, making the improvisational elements of the show so seemless, the uninitiated could mistake them for rehearsed. The moment they left the stage Guthrie remembers saying “This is working. We should record this.”
As our regular readers will know, Guthrie is very much a part of the iGuitar family, and there’s very little that needs to be said here about him. His combination of flawless technical prowess and unparalleled musicality makes him, what many consider to be, the perfect modern guitar hero. Influence wise, everyone is fair game for Guthrie; from Joe Pass to Yngwie Malmsteen there doesn’t seem to be anyone Guthrie hasn’t studied in detail. It’s this versatility that has made Guthrie one of the go to guys when you want something a little bit special and he’s worked with bands ranging from The classic prog rock of Asia to the hip hop grime of Dizzee Rascal.
Bryan Beller may come across as a relative unknown, but in reality the man has a collection of solo albums to his name, along with some serious sideman projects too. As you will have no doubt spotted from our Steve Vai feature, Bryan has been a long time go to guy for Steve, playing on several albums from “The Ultra Zone” onward. It’s highly recommended that you check out Vai’s last DVD “Where the Wild Things Are” as Bryan has a killer solo on Freak Show Excess. Bryan has also appeared on the recordings of other legends on the scene including Dweezil Zappa and James LaBrie of Dream Theater. The thing that grabs me about Beller is his mastery of harmony, in fact at times with the Aristocrats he can be spotted playing high register chordal parts just to fill in for the lack of a keyboard in the band.
Marco Minnemann is another one of those instrumentalists who’s managed to achieve cult status on their instrument, but also transcend that by being play a key role next to a master of another instrument; of course, this is before you think that Marco has well over 10 of his own albums. He’s a seasoned clinician, and the author of some highly respected books including the hugely popular “Extreme Independence”.
On the guitar scene Marco has worked with some great players such as Greg Howe and Paul Gilbert. Marco can be seen on Paul’s Spaceship Live DVD where he plays an entire show in a spacesuit; one particular highlight comes when Marco drops his stick on Scarified only to watch it bounce around his toms and then caught again, the most impressive of fills!
The driving force that made this band happen was Ed Yoon of Suhr Guitars. for the past few years Yoon has been plugging Guthrie to anyone and everyone for no reason other than being a huge fan. So after many years at Suhr, Ed decided it was time to do something new and suddenly these three musical legends had a manager who could help steer things in the direction the music buying public wanted them, and that was in a studio making a record. We owe Ed a lot!
The resulting album was released in September 2011, recorded over a 5 day period in Chicago, and showcases what this band are all about, a power trio with jazz rock influences playing live off each other. The record sounds very organic, if slightly minimalist due to a lack of keys or guitar overdubs, but this works quite well as you know that what you hear is exactly how the band are going to sound live.
The record consists of 9 tunes, three from each member. The key factor is that they’re not just a tune written to showcase talent, for example, Sweaty Knockers was penned by Beller with Guthrie in mind “to have fun with”, and Guthrie wrote I Want A Parrot just for Bryan to open up on. The album has much more of a Mahavishnu Orchestra vibe than a Joe Satriani thing going on, you’re more likely to think of artists like Frank Zappa than anything shreddy and self indulgent, the guys can play, but it’s about having fun and making music. Just listen to Flatlands and you realise you’re listening to a band who write songs, not a guitar player.
As you can see from our footage taken on the band’s recent UK tour, you can hear anything from these guys, Boing!... I’m In The Back opens with some pseudo country picking, and it comes across as fun.
The melody to this song is playful too, then just a few minutes later the song steps down a gear and becomes a sorrowful ballad which Guthrie begins to open up over, to me this is exciting as you don’t know what’s going to happen, and it’s going to be different every night. On the other side of the coin there are songs like Guthrie’s Bad Asteroid which has been knocking around in various forms for years, on demos, Asia shows, on Guthrie’s solo shows and even popping up on acoustic sets. This feels a lot closer to the traditional Steve Vai instrumental guitar vibe that a guitar nerd is going to want to see, but in the Aristocrats it becomes something a little more raw and rocky, the band shift seamlessly between the complex unison sections to the jazz improvisations and the result is a joy to behold.
If you haven’t seen the Aristocrats yet, you absolutely need to take the chance if it arises, they are without a doubt one of the most exciting acts to launch in recent memory and all we can do to help nurture it is to support them, in return we can hope for many more albums of beautiful jazz rock fusion.