It was a full moon and Bastille Day, a guillotine fete for veteran French bassist Bunny Brunel, so the vibe felt kinda prickly to start with. The band shuffled onstage a half-hour late -- the Bieber-coiffed Brunel plucking random fat runs and juicy strums on his electric, a maniacally grinning Holdsworth gauzing out ebb & flow chordal expansions on his little headless guitar, keyboard surfer Dennis Hamm clonking and tickling Herbie-style Rhodes as if they were floating one of those Miles "Live at the Fillmore" interludes.
But you gotta have a lude before you can do an interlude, and where was the drummer? After several checks of his handheld communication device, Brunel announced that Ronald Bruner Jr. was grappling with some family or car difficulties, take your pick. So Brunel asked a thin young feller named Élan, who'd been setting up the video equipment, if he'd sit in, which he did. They rolled into a slow groove on a tentative two-chord vamp, and in a few minutes up trotted the fresh-faced young cannonball Bruner, who slipped onto the stool without missing a beat and started cracking his kit with frustration unleashed. Brunel zipped up the neck for an intense solo, Holdsworth began ripping with that unmistakable kidney-pie tone, and the vamp turned into a brutish revision of Herbie Hancock's delicate "Maiden Voyage," howbout that. After it wrapped, Holdsworth extended a skeletal claw and gave Bruner's meaty digits a squeeze.
The quartet dug into the 1970s Tony Williams Lifetime catalog for Holdsworth's "Fred," which launched with a thickly harmonized crosshand solo from Hamm before Holdsworth exchanged his grin for a grimace, located a voodoo scale and scared the chives off the spuds with speedy abstractions. The unit stopped on a dime; Bruner beamed in triumph. Brunel to Holdsworth: "Who's Fred?" A.H.: "My ex-wife." Bruner was too busy checking his own I.M.s to hit the appropriate rimshot.
I think the next tune was introduced as Holdsworth's 1989 ballad "Secrets." No telling how, sans studio trix, Holdsworth managed to sound as if he were playing his guitar backward; he also scraped up some heavily flanged/distorted chords that won't be found in the Mel Bay book. Or maybe somebody put acid in my gin.
Following an extended introductory tease, Bruner hushed the classic paradiddle and slammed into the butt-busting groove of Billy Cobham's "Stratus," with the brilliant Brunel infinitely recycling the rollin' bass riff as if he lacked both brain and ego -- good man. Holdsworth's leaping runs and Hamm's inventively layered reharmonizations pushed the limits while Bruner went totally outlaw, pounding his drums into a pile of kindling.
Maybe it was more of a Fusion Hits kind of evening than a fresh artistic statement. But nobody wanted a refund.