Internationally acclaimed guitarist Michael Harris has had his hand in many projects and genres over the last few decades. With his new solo record, Tranz-Fused, he delves into a nice balance of jazz-fusion and progressive metal. Although the musicianship is incredible and the extensive arrangements are mind blowing, it’s nothing especially new, and it’s inherently too much to take at once.
Besides maintaining an illustrious solo career, Harris has also stretched his talents into several bands, including Arch Rival (his first), Darkology, and Thought Chamber (which genre legend Mike Portnoy cited as a favorite new act in 2007). On Tranz-Fused, Harris utilizes the talents of many respected musicians, including bassist Bunny Brunel (Chick Corea), drummers Mike Haid and Marco Minnemann, and keyboardist Bernard Wright. Together they, and others, construct a heavy and complex collection of ever-changing instrumentals that, while still impressing, feel very familiar and overbearing at times.
Tranz-Fused starts with “Rocket Surgery,” and the influences/emulations of King Crimson, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Frank Zappa announce themselves. Carefully choreographed guitar lines dance around funky bass, crazy syncopation and fancy synthesizers, and it’s a marvel. However, at the same time, it feels like shameless showing off.
This synopsis reigns true for most of the album. The first time the band takes a breath (figuratively speaking, of course) is with “Blue Shift,” which finally introduces some dynamics into the mix. This mellower side brings some diversity to the album, so it’s appreciated. As the album continues, Harris and Co. infuse more acoustic guitar and Rush-esque space jam trickery into their madness, which makes for a nice compromise (though it’s all still too similar).
Tranz-Fused is both amazing and uninteresting at the same time. Harris and his musicians are experts, and seeing this stuff performed live would be quite exhilarating. At the same time, a common problem within the genre arises—there’s barely any variety. You could skip around within songs and even between tracks and feel like nothing has changed; it all fits together because the tracks don’t announce sufficient individuality. In the end, it succeeds at it what it wants to be— yet another prog-metal instrumental album. It’s no worse, better or different from that.