Review by Brad Walseth
Guitarist David Joel is another musician of the generation that grew up listening to the Beatles, played progressive rock in bands and then studied/graduated from the conservatory (Berklee and the New England Conservatory of Music!). That the man can write and play is no surprise, but that this recording is his first studio release as a leader somewhat is, because he truly does have talent. Surrounding himself with some top notch players from the Philly/NYC area on “Spiral Sky,” Joel may have taken his time to record, but he certainly gets the results right.
The David Joel Quartet is a working band and the connection between the players is obvious. Stylistically, the music is fusion, but not in the self-indulgent vein. One is reminded a bit of Pat Metheny’s work, but with perhaps a bit less space and more of an edgy rock attitude (at times). Compositions are mature and exhibit an openness to the world of music that hints at a Mahavishnu Orchestra (with a touch of Philly soul). Some of Joel’s effected guitar sounds are startling at first, but I like it! He also shows an appealing touch on acoustic guitar on tunes like the meditative “As It May End ”and folksy “Little Bear Prelude.” And while Joel’s angular guitar work is excellent, he allows everyone in the band a place to shine. Bassist Paul Gehman proves to be a melodic and rhythmic delight, while keyboardist John Stenger adds some sparkling work. The drum chair is able handled by Dan Monaghan, who keeps it all together on these subtly challenging arrangements.
The music itself is a bit of a throw back to the ’70s, but thanks to the internet, listeners are no longer enslaved to the whims of the trendy and currently fashionable, and can enjoy the best sounding music from any time or influence when we want it, radio be damned. “The Dance of Life” is a positive and catchy opener, while “Eastern Truth,” “Western Lies” and the “Other Side of the Sun” showcase band energy. “The Star-Spangled Gospel” sounds like Hendrix walked in on a Booker-T recording session, “Little Bear” is a gorgeous love song, while the wonderful title track lives up to its name with its soaring flights.
David Joel is a guitarist you will want to check out if you are open to original music fusing a variety of influences, and I am hopeful “Spiral Sky” will help to spread his worthy music out beyond the Philadelphia area.