NEIL ZAZA


"When Gravity Fails" (Melodik Records; 2006)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Neil Zaza is one of those guitarists that I’ve always been aware of but had never heard. I knew of Zaza through the music/guitar press and hearing other like-minded guitar aficionados discuss Zaza’s merits as a guitar-slinger. It’s almost comical how we never have the time (and resources) to know the breadth and variety of musicians that are worthy of hearing. Regardless, I finally get my chance to wrap my ears and head around Zaza’s musical abilities with the release of “When Gravity Falls.”

‘Cascading’ is one of the words I’ve occasionally used to describe a solo guitarist’s flood of notes during more shred-like moments – and over the years I have done everything in my power to avoid using that term unless absolutely necessary. As the primary reviewer dealing with most solo guitar releases for Rough Edge that kind of phrase can be avoided only for so long. The first track, “Something Anything,” features a cascading torrent of notes that overwhelms the musical frequency – and that’s a good thing. And to the same extent the second track, “Purple Plush,” achieves the same effect with a greater emphasis on the hard rock style as well as “Ultra” does toward the end of the disc.

Style and grace, albeit with grandeur, marks most of the tracks on “When Gravity Falls.” “Cinematic” is a nod to the neo-classicalism that generally can describe guitar shredders from the past. Verve, and a flair for the dramatic, defines many of the songs on “When Gravity Falls” as well. The best example would be “Danza Della Notte” with its seductive sound and dancing melodies. “Bleed” features bold strokes of color while “Heavyocity” growls and reaches for the lower registers of the sound spectrum in the same way that Black Sabbath might come up with a sinister riff; the track then weaves itself around the familiar sound of Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess’ keys and symphony-like sounds.

The ballads are equally as satisfying. The emotional “In My Dreams” is drenched in feeling while the bluesy “Celestine” allows piano and Hammond organ to give the song depth while Zaza’s guitar lines evoke the trials and tribulations of the human spirit and spirituality. “My Only Son” is a particularly good example of how a song should have an instantly memorable melody yet still have the structure to encourage repeat listens. The disc ends with “Before the Throne” which is one of the more heartfelt and lyrical guitar-based ballads I’ve heard in a long time. 

One of my biggest problems in reviewing solo guitar music is that I am always hearing an artist and their performance through Joe Satriani informed ears. Zaza manages to approach Satriani-like territory with his superb playing yet not doing anything that seems to be copying Satriani in terms of style or sound. One thing that Zaza does do (as all guitarists attempting to follow in Satriani’s footsteps should do) is provide a variety of texture and sound on each and every track (and within tracks, too) to give the listener the proverbial “picking samples in a candy store approach” which echoes the sweetness of all the songs, but with different flavors to each.

“When Gravity Falls” is a solid record through and through. But the best and biggest rewards are when digging for the depth of “When Gravity Falls” that requires more than just casual listening.

“When Gravity Fails” was produced, arranged, and orchestrated by Neil Zaza.

Neil Zaza is joined by musical luminaries T.M. Stevens, Jordan Rudess, Michael Anthony, Peter Frampton, Roger Joseph Manring, Jr., Gary “GMan” Sullivan, Bobby Rock, David Strieter, Mark Leach, Bill Cioce, Adam Kury, Scott Ross, Timothy M. Bradford, and Doug Johns.

For more information visit http://www.neilzaza.com


Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Revised: 15 May 2016 12:09:21 -0400.