On April 24th, 2020, THE DOORS‘ guitarist Robby Krieger was meant to release his ninth solo album, the first since the 2010s Grammy-nominated “Singularity.” This new album bears the title “The Ritual Begins at Sundown” and is launched via The Players Club, a division of Mascot Label Group. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this album was postponed until August 14th, 2020. For the casual fan of THE DOORS who was probably drawn to the band’s music for its poetic revolt, dark chaos, and Dionysian impulses, the solo works of Krieger might traverse in quite strange terrains – jazz.
Last year Krieger released an album of unreleased cuts from his 1979 band, RED SHIFT. It was a short-lived project that featured prominent jazz musicians such as Frank Zappa alumni Arthur Barrow and the drum colossus, Vinnie Colaiuta, whose signature drumming adorns, for instance, the 1990s touchstone pop album, “Ten Summoner’s Tales” by Sting. Those seven RED SHIFT tracks, unearthed from the dark dungeons of the late 1970s, had a distinctive Frank Zappa-vibe to them, albeit being slightly less frantic and more vocal-driven.
Now, Krieger returns with an instrumental album that further channels the eclectic musical genius of Zappa with a sophisticated, modern twist similar to the Norwegian electro-jazz outfit, JAGA JAZZIST, or the sublime Grammy-awarded instrumental fusion ensemble from Texas, SNARKY PUPPY. The album was co-written and produced by Barrow and features a cavalcade of other Zappa-alumni such as Jock Ellis (trombone), Sal Marquez (trumpet), Tommy Mars (keyboards), and Chad Wackerman (drums), in addition to the jazz musicians Aeb Byrne (flute), Vince Denim (saxophone), Chuck Manning (saxophone), as well as drummers Joel Wackerman and Joel Taylor.
The quantum leap from THE DOORS‘ darkly-shaded 1960s psychedelia pop to instrumental jazz-rock fusion with a hint of Zappa may not be as counter-intuitive as it first seems. In the context of the hippie idealism of the late 1960s, THE DOORS was an anomaly. They were the dark prophets of impending doom, which eventually swallowed the whole movement. In terms of music and the lyrics, THE DOORS was a band that was unique AF. Sadly, the band was fronted by a dark poet whose gargantuan appetite for disruption manifested also through his personal life, with repercussions we all know. Frank Zappa did pretty much the same thing – but exclusively through musical means. Even in the context of the eclectic 1970s prog-rock and jazz-rock fusion, he was quite an anarchist. If THE DOORS sounded like the Dionysian, evil version of THE BEATLES, Frank Zappa sounded like the Frankenstein of jazz-tinged prog, or as the title of one his albums goes: jazz from hell.
Krieger’s outlook in music, evidently, is to go the less beaten path.
Ahead of the album release, Krieger fans were teased with the single cut, ”The Drift,” which has melodic twists and turns to prompt a long-time Zappa fan to expect Napoleon Murphy Brock to cut in anytime with a tongue-in-cheek break, say, like on the revered FRANK ZAPPA & THE MOTHERS live album, “Roxy & Elsewhere,” released in 1974.
The album, however, is not merely a nostalgic trip for diehard Zappa-junkies. Barrow‘s tasteful production gives the songs a modern slant. Furthermore, Krieger‘s guitar tone is often quite far from Zappa‘s trademark wah-inflected sound, despite the fact that both guitarists are famed for putting the legendary Gibson SG to good use.
The album navigates from the modernized Zappa-grooves, in songs such as ”Hot Head,” ”Bianca’s Dream,” or the actual Zappa-cover, ”Chunga’s Revenge,” to the bit more rootsy, Jimmy Smith -tinged organ grooves of ”Dr. Noir,” and the funky syncopations of the opening track, ”What Was That?” Obviously, having quite literally played an integral part in shaping the cultural psyche of the late 1960s, Krieger cannot outrun the legacy of THE DOORS. In addition to THE DOORS cover, ”Yes the River Knows,” the second track on the album, ”Slide Home,” showcases Krieger‘s signature slide chops in a brilliant way, bringing strong flashbacks of THE DOORS‘ classic ”Waiting for the Sun.” To complete the jazzy narrative of the album with a few punchy jabs, ”The Hitch” is funky riffage that syncopates with a gritty offbeat and the closing track, ”Screen Junkie,” is a groove train that steamrolls forward in a 7/8 time signature, slightly reminiscent of the 1970s jazz-rock albums of the Finnish guitar legend, Jukka Tolonen.
“The Ritual Begins at Sundown” is a brilliant album for Krieger to come out of hibernation with. It probably is a gift that gives more to the fans of Frank Zappa rather than THE DOORS, but I guess it wouldn’t hurt anyone to delve into the surrealistic dreamworld of instrumental, guitar-driven jazz every now and then.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- What Was That?
- Slide Home
- The Drift
- Chunga’s Revenge
- Hot Head
- Yes, the River Knows
- The Hitch
- Dr. Noir
- Bianca’s Dream
- Screen Junkie
Mascot Label Group