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November 18, 2015

Number Three Combo ‚Äď ‚ÄúRetrofitting‚ÄĚ (SlowBurn Records 2015, CD/DL)

Last year SlowBurn Records released the self-titled debut by Cobracalia, which started life as the Black Sun Ensemble album that was half-finished when BSE founder and guitarist Jesus Acedo passed away. Former BSE members plus additional musicians forged ahead and completed the swansong BSE album ‚ÄstBehind Purple Clouds¬†‚Äď which was released in late 2013. The Cobracalia album was the result of the musicians who completed¬†Behind Purple Clouds¬†continuing to work together and consisted of a complex yet accessible brand of spacey ethnic inspired Prog-Psych orchestra. Number Three Combo is a musically related but instrumentally stripped down trio made up of former BSE members Eric Johnson on 12-string acoustic guitar and vocals and Joe E. Furno on flute, plus Cobracalia percussionist Carl Hall on ethnic percussion. Those are the principle instruments but there is also organ and electric guitar in supporting roles throughout. The album opens on a spacey, trippy, ethnic flavored note with¬†The Empty Quarter. Arabian Nights and big production harem dance images are conjured up as the music rocks out, grooves joyously and Psychedelically swirls. The trio take on the Blues standard¬†Driftin‚Äô Blues, which is a vocal number and a very interesting piece which morphs and mixes a folky brand of Blues with dreamy ethnic vibes and potent soundscapes. I especially like the blend of acoustic Blues and floating flute melody. The 12-string soars on the lovely instrumental¬†Sonora, supported by flute and percussion. From what I‚Äôve described so far would you expect a Black Sabbath cover? There is!! Number Three Combo handle¬†Electric Funeral¬†with finesse as the flute takes on the main riff duties and the acoustic guitar and percussion add the expected ethnic vibe, plus organ and electric guitar adding a bit of beef to the music. Big kudos to these guys for taking a classic and totally making it their own. This may be one of the best covers I‚Äôve heard all year.¬†Beyond the Beyond¬†is another vocal number with an organ, acoustic guitar, flute and ethno percussion combo that sounds really cool with Eric‚Äôs Bluesy passionate vocals. Ditto for¬†Lonely Road, which is an Eric Johnson solo piece that puts the spotlight on his nimble acoustic guitar playing and vocals.¬†Citadel¬†is a power rocking Ethno-Prog instrumental that is both uplifting and intense.¬†Last River¬†is an equal parts acoustic guitar, flute, piano and percussion instrumental that segues smoothly into the final track,¬†Born Too Late, which is a vocal tune that blends Eastern and Western influences and Progressive Rock elements to create a darkly intense yet hypnotic and cool grooving finale to this impressive set. In summary, there‚Äôs lots of variety here. I agree with the promo sheet that Number Three Combo will appeal to fans of Psych-Folk and Acoustic/Ethnic Rock, though I‚Äôll add that Progheads with a taste for ethnic influences will find much to enjoy here. And of course those wishing to follow the continuing Black Sun Ensemble legacy will be delighted.
  NUMBER THREE COMBO ‚Äď RETROFITTING CD on¬†SlowBurn Records Prolific guitarist Eric Johnson has released a number of recordings since the demise of Black Sun Ensemble following Jesus Acedo‚Äôs death in 2013. As a member of Bread and Circus, Cobracalia, and Sundarata, he‚Äôs contributed to several albums (all on his SlowBurn imprint) of mellow, eastern-flavoured Ensemble-like music. His latest project is a trio he formed with ex-Black Sun Ensemble flautist Joe E. Furno and his Cobracalia partner, Middle Eastern master percussionist Carl Hall (featured here on dumbek). As with the previous projects, there is a contemplative, eastern vibe wafting across these recordings, but Johnson and company have upped the mellow quotient by focusing on Johnson‚Äôs 12-string acoustic, the occasional table drum loop, and Furno‚Äôs electronically-treated flute. Opener ‚ÄėThe Empty Quarter‚Äô sets the stage, with relaxing melodies and a Middle Eastern vibe. Johnson‚Äôs vocals and Furno‚Äôs flittering flute create the perfect ruminating feeling for the 70-year old daydreaming blues standard, ‚ÄėDriftin‚Äô Blues‚Äô, while chiming acoustic guitars, laid-back percussion and soaring flute combine to lift the organic ‚ÄėSonora‚Äô into a shimmering dance amongst cumulous clouds floating across lazy blue skies. There‚Äôs a bizarre bazaar vibe chunnelling through ‚ÄėCitadel‚Äô (not the Stones song) that wouldn‚Äôt be misplaced on the Stones‚Äô track‚Äôs parent album. Another laidback navelgazer, the Black Sun pedigree is apparent, but the trio have reined in the excessive desert wanderings that occasionally dogged Acedo & Co.‚Äôs trippier artifacts. ‚ÄėLast River‚Äô sounds like it was written as an oasis after a long, aimless stroll through the desert; it‚Äôs cool, melodic waters wash refreshingly over long day‚Äôs journeyers venturing into unchartered destinations. Relaxing‚Ķcontemplative‚Ķpastoral‚Ķ. These are feelings that are all-too-often missing from today‚Äôs loud and aggressive rock tunes. Thanks to Johnson and his cohorts, Number Three Combo restore peace and quiet to a breakneck-paced world, turning daydream believers into all who venture under their spell. (Jeff Penczak)  

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