It’s always exciting, not to mention interesting when you get to hear about a band putting out a jazz rock/fusion (mostly) instrumental because you just know that it’s always about solid craft being fashioned with good old blood, sweat and passion to evoke the theme of any one piece. Take for instance, not just an album but a WHOLE label devoted to this sound. Say hello to BangTower. I’m betting a lot of you haven’t heard the name before but you certainly will be familiar with a number of musicians who have been or are in the band. Mention the subgenre “jazzrock/fusion” and who comes to mind? I’d say within less than five names you will have included Brand X in there. Am I right? Of course I am. And that’s a great band to name drop to show you’re on the right track, literally, because Bangtower’s first two albums featured none other than legendary bassist, Percy Jones, co founder of Brand X. But wait, that’s not all. How about we throw in Grammy winning guitarist, engineer, and producer, Neil Citron, (Lana Turner, Erik Norlander, Quiet Riot) and “L. A. Drum Guru” Walter Garces (drummer for The Electric Prunes since 2006).
So has that got your attention yet? Well get this. They’ve just released their latest one and they’ve taken it to another level. We’ll get to the other three shortly but first, let’s talk about the new one they’ve titled THE ROAD WE TRAVEL [Declassified Records] which is more than a coincidence because the first track, “N C Hammer” starts with a thundering pedal-to-the-metal on a highway of rocking out, and it doesn’t let up on the next ones, “Don’t Push” and “The Bag Man.” Hang on tight, you’re in for a ride. Blistering guitar chops and licks from Neil Citron meet with pounding, thoughtful bass (Robby “Pag” Pagliari) and an equal amount of drum (Rudd Weatherwax) to boot has Bangtower soloing to their heart’s content. This is high energy instrumental Jazz Rock Fusion, call it want you will.
I recall a conversation I had with Executive Producer, Jon Pomplin back in 2018 talking about what he and BangTower were going to be doing next. He said he, Neil and Pag were working and recording for the next one to be released sometime in 2019. They even had a tentative title for it, “No Good Deed,” which you can see has since changed, and would feature “an edgier” feel, while keeping within the loose confines of classic progressive instrumental jazz rock fusion.” True to his word this one delivers in spades. Well spades hitting the eardrums with high octave precision I’m thinking as I’m sitting here tapping my feet along to “Heavy Lifting”. It’s that good.
Oh, there are quieter moments for sure. Take “Rusty Nail” for instance. This one lets Pag shine on bass. And why not? Some might argue imitating guitar techniques on bass is gimmicky. Well no, it’s not. Not according to Chris Squire, Jack Bruce, Stanley Clark, John Patitucci, and lets not forget Jaco Prestorius. There’s enough spotlights to go around when it comes to talented musicians at the top end of their game expressing themselves in the “grooviest” ways possible. and that groove continues on the laidback “Bring you Back” which softens the mood somewhat.
Nine song titles in all and if you get the CD it will include six re-mastered tracks from their previously released digital EP (as in EPic) album, Hey, Where’d Everybody Go? More about that album below.
This is probably one of longest held pieces I’ve written as I began it sometime last year but we decided to hold off until the new one came out. Just so you get a good appreciation of Bangtower and their music I’ve merged and heavily edited this article to include not only a heads up on the new album but also an appreciation and look at their back catalogue.
In 2010 BangTower released their first album titled “Casting Shadows” produced by Jon Pomplin and Neil Citron (who also engineered, mixed and mastered). The first track “BBA” promised one hell of a ride, and boy, did they deliver. All three musicians come charging out of the gate with thundering bass and pounding drums with mind-blowing guitar licks soaring overhead, and then some. Not a bad way for the band to introduce themselves.
This is instrumental Prog that rocks, swaying often into fusion in interesting ways. Each artist carves their own particular sound into each track, mostly done at pace, but with a direction in mind. Neil Citron played on Phideaux’s “Fiendish” album, and you know how experimental and technically adept they can get.
December 2016 saw the release of their second album, “With N With Out” with the same lineup but they also bought on board special guests, drummers Frankie Banali of “Quiet Riot” and Rodger Carter of “John 5” as well as fretless bassist Robertino “Pag” Pagliari of “Ohm”, Joan Fraley of “The Rave” (bass guitar, vocals), Chris Colovus (bass guitar), Josh Greenbaum (drums) and Justin Stone (Piano). The first track, “Hello I’m Here” is far removed from how Bangtower started their debut album with “BBA.” It’s a lot softer intro for this one, and yet once again the intricacies of their individuality on their respective instruments shine through. Three minutes and nineteen seconds may not seem like a long time but each musician is given a spotlight with soft focus on this track to create the lightened mood, but fear not, the second track “PCH” puts them into second gear going on third with some really crazy drumming grooves and fusion on a heavier side thanks to pounding bass and reaching guitar riffs.
Get to the fourth track, “Soul to Sole” and I can’t help thinking of some of those Stevie Vai licks on his solo albums. I don’t mean by copying him, yet there’s that freewheeling, improvising feel to where the music is taking us there as way of expression on Citron’s guitar. Also the drumming on this album is phenomenal as proven on each of the 13 tracks.
“Hey, Where’d Everybody Go?” was their third album (okay, they’re calling it an EP, but seven tracks with a couple over seven minutes I’m calling this an album) and we see a lineup change with Percy Jones leaving to reform Brand X. Before he goes he recommends Robby “Pag” Pagliari who featured on their second album to join the band on bass. Frankie Banali also returns to fill in on drums when Walter Garces also leaves to work on some other projects. Are you keeping on the play? The dynamics between these three is just as good as the previous lineup and this album is one I really have grown to like a lot.
Three albums and a combination of 38 tracks, and there is not much vocals going on. On this album you get to hear them sing (and very well I have to say) on the melodic track, “Bring You Back.” Not sure if this has the kiss of death to Jazz Fusion fans but this has airplay written all over it. It’s one that will stick in your mind after the first play. It’s one track I will be adding to my mixes in future planned playlists. This album is just one long smooth listen from front to back.
My deepest appreciation to producer/musician and president of Declassified Records, Jon Pomplin for his patience and kindness on drip-feeding me the albums and information for Bangtower, as well as sharing the Prog love. These are albums top heavy in instrumentals with the odd vocal, and as said, if you’re looking for that kind of harder edge to your Brand X type vibe then look no further than these roads we travel.
PURCHASE ‘THE ROAD WE TRAVEL’: https://bangtower.bandcamp.com/album/the-road-we-travel-digital-version
PURCHASE ‘CASTING SHADOWS’: https://bangtower.bandcamp.com/album/casting-shadows
PURCHASE ‘WITH N WITH OUT’: https://bangtower.bandcamp.com/album/with-n-with-out
PURCHASE ‘HEY, WHERE’D EVERYBODY GO?’: https://bangtower.bandcamp.com/album/hey-whered-everybody-go-digital-version
PURCHASE THE CD FROM CD BABY: https://store.cdbaby.com/artist/bangtower