The Jelly Jam is Ty Tabor on guitar and vocals, John Myung on bass and Rod Morganstein on drums and percussion. If those musicians don't ring a bell perhaps their band names will: King's X, Dream Theater, Dixie Dregs respectively. The Jelly Jam is something of a prog rock super group, but without any of the pretention.
Shall we descend is the trio's third release and a departure in almost every way. Nominally they decided to break the cycle and not call this release 'Jelly Jam 3' and graphically they've abandoned the relatively bright colors that appeared on the first two albums. The color change is also reflected in the music, which is a shade or two darker in mood as well.
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Gone are the almost power pop melodies... or at least it appears that way on the surface. On first listen this sounds more like one of Ty's melancholic solo releases than anything else.
'Who's Comin' Now' bristles with tension as the band vamps behind Ty's stark vocal in a holding pattern just waiting to unleash their full power. No one is in a hurry here, they know what they've got in store for us and they're not about to give it all up right away. There's amazing clarity in the mix that allows you to hear each drum stroke and each melodic bass line. Even though Ty's voice is in control, no one member tries to outdo another.
'Stay Together' continues the mid tempo almost lazy feel of the album. You almost get the impression that these guys are enjoying working together so much that they don't want things to end quite so soon. With a pedigree like this you might expect wanky solos to pop up in the middle of songs, but that just doesn't happen. This trio is all about the song and creating a mood.
Where you do notice the individual players is in the intros where they often come in one at a time, each laying down their part so that you can hear it and are able to pick it out easily when the rest of the band kicks in. That's definitely the case for 'Halos In Hell', which builds slowly from a bass and percussion opening. Each verse ratchets up the intensity a little bit before settling back down and allowing everyone to regroup.
This is a lot like the way Ty solos with King's X live. He builds to what you think is a climax then backs off and builds again from a higher point each time making the end of the solo an explosion of energy. By the end of this tune the band is in full roar, but they always quit while they're ahead and leave you wanting more. This tune also includes the first albeit short solo from Mr Tabor.
'Same Way Down' features my favorite lyric; "so anger was my first reaction, to put you down gave satisfaction I must admit, then I saw that we were all the same, we were both part of the game, not the cause of it." We all say things we regret when we're angry and Ty's vocal bleeds with regret and appeals for reconciliation. His brief solo is yet another example of how he can say so much with so few notes.
'Barometric Reign' sounds like a Neil Young tune and even evokes a big sky Montana type landscape with its slow deliberate pace and lazy feel. 'March Of The Trolls' might be a bit of studio fun that just happened to get recorded and wound up on the record as an instrumental interlude. 'Questions' opens with a repetitive Myung bass line followed by Ty's best Steven Wilson impression. The heavily effected guitars in the background almost sound like strings.
The title track adds piano to the mix and continues the Porcupine Tree vibe of 'Questions'. 'Come Alive' is another interlude that acts more or less as an intro to the finale of 'Ten'.
This is what we've been waiting for; the full fury of the band is finally unleashed in this eight minute instrumental workout. I don't know how much of this was jammed in the studio and how much of it was written, but I could listen to a whole record of this. Brilliant work from all three is doled out in equal parts and each is savored before giving way to the next.
If you've ever seen King's X live they you know what Ty is capable of when he lets loose on 'Over My Head' or in the outro solo of 'Cigarettes' and this is what we get to end the record. Who knows, maybe this is a sign to come and the next album will pick up where this one left off. One can hope.
This and many other fine recordings are available from Molken Music. Be sure to visit the site
to hear other King's X related projects, but don't feed Wally because he tends to get snappy and he might bite one of your fingers off.