Keyboard virtuoso Derek Sherinian returns with his latest album, Vortex, which sees him taking up where he left off in 2020 with The Phoenix release. That is not to claim that he is re-treading the same old ground but as Derek himself sates it is a “continuation”. “However, I feel the composition is stronger on the new album, and I would describe it as a modern day 70s style fusion record, but with newer heavier tonality.” To add to this continuity, superb drummer Simon Phillips is as heavily involved as he was on the previous release. The two musicians have a very close working relationship, again sharing both writing and production of the album as they did on The Phoenix.
Derek, of course, has a wealth of experience and knowledge. Not everyone can boast being the ninth best keyboard player ever* or the eighth best and best keyboard player of the twenty-first century**. Over the years he has played with Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Black Country Communion, Billy Idol, Planet X, Yngwie Malmstein, Kiss, Sons Of Apollo, Buddy Miles, and Whitesnake amongst others. Alice Cooper has referred to him as the “Caligula of keyboards” while David Coverdale likened him to “the son of Jon Lord”.
For this release Derek and Simon are joined by the exceptional bassist Tony Franklin, and a plethora of guitarists – Steve Stevens, Nuno Bettencourt, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Lukather, Michael Schenker, Zakk Wylde, Mike Stern and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. Some Derek has played with before, some not. All the musicians involved give sterling performances, with Derek being prepared to share the limelight rather than making this an overly keyboards up front album.
Typically for Derek, the album portrays an enterprising changeable sound that sees him blending rock with elements drawn from funk, progressive rock, and jazz, resulting in a great big slab of an album steeped in 1970’s styled fusion. The music is always lively and shifting, multi-voiced and emphatic. For all the album’s vicissitudinous, though, it has a palpable cohesiveness. The genres are not domineering but serve a purpose. Scorpion is probably as near to jazz as the album gets, a tune full of piano-driven momentum while Key Lime Blues is a funkier danceable tune that moves and shifts. The opening title track is dramatic and portentous, while the expansive colourful closer Aurora Australis is the closest the tunes come to an epic.
A key feature of the album is how well the diverse talents are integrated into the music as a whole. This isn’t just the diverse genres, but the sounds and personalities of the musicians involved. For example, when it came to the guitars, Derek recruited a cloud of great players, some of whom he had successfully worked with before – Steve Stevens, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, Sons Of Apollo bandmate Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – and a few new allies, in the form of Michael Schenker, Mike Stern and Nuno Bettencourt. As he explains; “The choice of guitarist works itself out in the writing. Also, like in the case of Steve Stevens, we co-wrote the song together, so it was natural for him to play on it.” Of his newly found collaborators, he says of Nuno Bettencourt, who appears on the scratchy Fire Horse, “I have always been a fan of his playing, and I am glad that we finally got to record together. He has the Van Halen swing and swagger to his playing that I love. We were both born in 1966, the Chinese year of the Fire Horse.” When it came to selection of Michael Schenker’s it was a no-brainer for Derek. “Michael Schenker has been one of my heroes for many years. He asked me to play on his Immortal album, and in return, he agreed to play on “Die Kobra”. I wanted to write a great song inspired by my favorite Schenker tracks. Zakk Wylde added some great additional parts to the song, and Tony Franklin and Simon Phillips sound great, as usual.” Such is the guitar rich nature of the tracks, presented in a wide variety of settings, that the work of Joe Satriani comes to mind.
Vortex is a very strong album, possibly one of Derek’s best. His and his coproducer Simon Phillip’s decision to allow the guitarists to have so much of the centre stage works admirably. You feel a domineering keyboard sound would diminish that somewhat. It has also allowed the tunes to have the central role of the album, without overstated bombast. It is the marrying of the instruments that is such a pleasing aspect.
* as voted for in Prog magazine
** as voted for by MusicRadar magazine
1. The Vortex
2. Fire Horse
4. Seven Seas
5. Key Lime Blues
6. Die Kobra
7. Nomad’s Land
8. Aurora Australis
Derek Sherinian – organs, pianos, synths
Simon Phillips – drums
Tony Franklin – bass
Steve Stevens – guitar (1,4)
Nuno Bettencourt – guitar (2)
Joe Bonamassa – guitar (5)
Steve Lukather – guitar (5)
Michael Schenker – guitar (6)
Zakk Wylde – guitar (6)
Mike Stern – guitar (7)
Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal – guitar (8)
Release date: 1st July 2022
Label: InsideOut Music
Formats: CD, vinyl, digital