Diffusion, “7 for 4” (MGI). Out of Bavaria, Diffusion blow yer sox off with mutational fusion. Wolfgang Zenk is the requisite ax sculptor, and the main thing ain’t his staggering chops but the way he puts you through more changes than a New York hooker without spilling your schnapps. One minute Zenk is busting out aggro over a mare-whipping beat from drummer Klaus Engl, the next he’s nibbling your earlobe with weepy Knopflerish bends, then he’s back to sluggo bombast, then off to the Hotel California for some coke & cooze before jetting to a Mediterranean sunspot and some quickstep jiggin’. The dynamic changes (even within a single song) swell from naptime to hurricane with effortless zoom, and Zenk never speeds past you, just whirls you along. On “Silent Flow,” Markus Froschmeier’s gooshy synth chords announce Diffusion’s enduring soft spot for the ‘80s, as Zenk nods to both Jeff Beck and Steve Morse, the latter a particular influence on his key-changing balladic sensibility. Impressive and fun, but a few things you’ll have to ignore in the name of international amity: the wrongheaded band name, the dumb song titles, the pix of the four geeks in boy-band haircuts and giggleworthy poses. No problem, just close your eyes and rock (except while driving).
Lindsey Boullt, “Composition” (lindseyboullt.com). Blind listening to Boullt’s minor-key structures and balalaika-like acoustic strums made me think this was some kind of Balkan fusion thing, but it turns out he’s from a Cajun-Texan family, teaches ‘round Frisco way, and just happens to dig Mahavishnu and Zep. Not coincidentally the keening, quicktickling guitarist has McLaughlin violinist Jerry Goodman onboard, as well as Satriani/Vai bassist Stu Hamm, and Yngwie keyboardist Derek Sherinian, whose monster grunt kicks strongest on “Bravo Davo de la Torre.” The textures, performances and sense of adventure attract, but the overall feel is a little static, more musicianly than passionate. Soundtracky, though not in an evil sense.
Marco Benevento, “Invisible Baby” (Hyena). This is car-trip music for the whole family, written like pop-rock but without vocals to distract from the pretty scenery. Keyboardist Benevento likes cycling arpeggios, strong melodies, cushiony grooves, dimensional electronics, and big, detailed production. Me, I like how Reed Mathis’ busy bass mugs Matt Chamberlain’s brisk drums on “Atari,” and I like how the Eltonian rusticism of “You Must Be a Lion” nearly lapses into dissonance in the fullness of its devotion. Unapologetic modern craftsmanship.
Omar Rodríguez-López, “Calibration” (N2O). Ever experience a Mars Volta concert? Well, at frequent intervals the thing breaks down into freaky noise jams, and much of this album by the Volta guitarist sounds like that; most of the rest sounds like fragments that never turned out to be songs, expanded into atmospheric workouts. Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and others from the MV crew pitch in, making a party of it. Whether you’re invited depends on your degree of fandom and your proclivity for rough & ready spontaneity.