JAN HAMMER, "HERE TO STAY"
About 15 years ago Jan Hammer began causing a stir with his Balkan-flavored jazz piano stylings. Somewhere along the road since then he underwent an artistic conversion, and following a fiery baptism with the Mahavishnu Orchestra he was born again as a purebred rock and roller. On this album, his second duo collaboration with guitarist Neal Schon of Journey, Hammer betrays only the slightest trace of his jazz roots. Instead, he immerses himself in the mammoth dimensions of stadium rock with a fervor and instinctive understanding of the style that could easily bring a coliseum full of Foreigner fans to their feet. Though Schon's overdriven guitar dominates this disc, Hammer gives it a deeper level of expression with his array of synthesizer settings. When doubling Schon's riffs or chords, Hammer favors cold crystalline colors. His solos are miniature gems, remarkable for their restraint within the album's power rock context. Usually you can pick Hammer's lines out from the wall of six-string distortion, especially when he adds a hard edge to his tone, or resurrects the woody textures he favored with Mahavishnu and on his own early solo projects. But there are moments when his chameleon-like command of guitar phrasing on the synthesizer blurs the edges between his and Schon's licks. He evokes electric violin sounds in his fills on "So Hot," and nails down a harmonica patch just about perfectly in "Peace Of Mind." Young keyboardists can learn a lot from an album like this about how the slightest nuances in keyboard phrasing and synthesizer programming can shoot new life into rock music without compromising its integrity. Columbia, FC-38428. Bob Doerschuk