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Release Date: 23rd June 2015

Ian Sutherland

ian sutherland

neal schon

Neal Schon is best known as the guitarist in multi-platinum stadium rock act Journey with millions of album sales to his credit and the rare distinction of playing a guitar solo the whole world recognises in the timeless 'Don't Stop Believin''.

Of course there is much more to the man's story than that, starting with joining Santana at the age of 15 as second guitarist at the invitation of the great man himself.

Schon left Santana and formed Journey in 1973 starting off in jazz rock territory before the band transformed into a more commercial style of rock band by the late 70s. All the way through the success of his most famous musical offerings there has been another side to Journey's axeman and the side projects have included Bad English, HSAS (with Sammy Hagar) and many solo releases. The albums released under his own name have been varied in style but all are instrumental albums and 'Vortex' continues that tradition.

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This is an ambitious undertaking featuring eighteen tracks and two CDs worth of music including collaborations with renowned keyboard player Jan Hammer and ex Journey drummer Steve Smith. The playing is very, very good indeed and Schon's signature wailing melodic guitar tones are all over the album as you'd expect.

The styles on display vary from the jazz fusion of atmospheric opener 'Miles Beyond' (a tribute to Miles Davis) to the lush bluesy shuffle of 'Irish Cream'. 'Lady M' is an instrumental attempt at a love song to his wife while 'Schon And Hammer Now' is a furious jam between two expert craftsmen, in full control of their instruments and loving the freedom to play off each other.

There is much to enjoy in most of the songs here then, particularly if you love the guitar stylings of Mr Schon but I find the limitations of the chosen format here an issue. This is not one album of guitar instrumentals but two. Schon himself says 'Vortex' is both his ninth and tenth solo albums and eighteen instrumentals is quite a lot to try and keep focussed on in one listen.

Taken one or even three or four tracks at a time you can't help but enjoy the musicianship but go past that and I found it difficult to retain an interest in what's going on. It's all too easy to let it become background music and surely that's not what it's meant to be.

I think how much this album will appeal to you will depend how much of a muso you are. If the idea of two hours of technically brilliant guitar playing backed up with other superb musicians appeals to you and how memorable each individual song is doesn't matter so much then this is the album for you. It certainly deserves to be right up there with the instrumental works of Satriani, Vai etc.

If, however like me you are a fan of Neal Schon but prefer to hear him add his huge talents to full on songs including a vocalist then this set might have only limited appeal. The best idea as always is to check it out yourself.




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