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Rob Koral 'Wild Hearts' (instrumental trio with Pete Whittaker & Jeremy Stacey) Album Review from Plunger

Wild Hearts is released on Friday 28th May 2021. Distribution through Proper Music - Catalogue number RKUK001

… And now for something completely different …

While I-IV-V plankspankers and blues rock shredders are ten-a-penny these days, Rob Koral’s inventive, cliché-averse guitar work with Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion has always been beyond pentatonic pigeonholing. Making the best of enforced ‘free time’ during lockdown, Wild Hearts, a trio project with ZSBC’s equally-outside-the-box Pete Whittaker on keys and Jeremy Stacey (King Crimson, Scott McKeon) drumming, gives free rein to his skills and influences.

The eight tracks on Wild Hearts, recorded in just six spur-of-the-moment hours, range from the lithe John Scofieldesque opener Show Me The Way to The Showdown’s brisk Bird’n’Diz ‘Jeepers Creepers’ deconstruction, and from The Beyond’s head-bobbing kick-and-guitar heartbeat the to the smoother, more vintage tones and 60s club dance groove of Funky ‘D’. Along with six originals, two ZSBC-staples get heftier reworks: Take Me Back is given a rocking lope with a bravura organ break and stinging lead lines taking Zoë’s vocal part; while Hold Tight takes the original (Hold On) on a power chord-driven ride-and-splash-rich joyride with healthy dollops of both fusion lead and flaring organ accents.

For Plunger the standout tracks are the two longest (we’re nothing if not predictable). Summer combines breezy-but-complex chords and hard-edged meaty organ for a superbly smoky fusion/prog hybrid with its solo judiciously balancing discursive flurries with calmer moments, climaxing in atonal exploration and an unsettling breakdown. The sophisticated Focus 3-style mini-suite of Saving Grace features a melodic, mournful theme that yields first to a Bach-tinged organ passage then a swinging ¾ jazz-prog excursion, then returning in spades before an expansive, trippy meander into a major-key coda complete with bird-call guitar, rolling keys-and-drum breakers and relaxed rallentando close.

The playing is stunning: Rob’s free-flowing guitar evoking not just Scofield but Stern, Loeb, Akkerman and Carlton amongst others; Pete’s keys run the gamut from Jimmy Smith and Billy Preston to Keith Emerson and Hugh Banton; and Jeremy’s drumming throughout is sublime, restless, tricksy or rock steady where required, matching his bandmates’ complexity but never intrusively. The sound is crisp, warm and highly professional courtesy of mixing and mastering by Jeremy’s brother Paul (Black Crowes, Oasis et al).

Lockdown has had very few upsides, but without it we might never have heard this excellent exposition of the DNA behind those refreshing, unexpected ZSBC solos. Wild Hearts is a perfect demonstration of why Rob is a bit different to your ‘run of the mill’ blues guitarists.

words by: Moray Stuart