Future Shock, the new album by keyboardist/composer Michael Whalen, comes at you from so many directions that you’ll wonder what it is, other than good and snappy and vibrant. It’s closer to ’70s prog rock than fusion, and while it has the same jazz underpinnings as Steely Dan, you might hear a shade of Daft Punk here and there. The energy is consistent, though, even though each of these ten original compositions lives in its own distinct aural neighborhood.
The common thread in Future Shock is Michael Whalen himself. He plays all keyboards, synthesizers and programming, he composed and arranged and even mixed the results. He provides plenty of layers to the sound, which is perhaps why these tunes are so difficult to pigeonhole. On the title track, Michael Whalen sounds like he’s skirting along the edge of hip-hop with sampled voices and steady beats. On softer tunes, reed player Bob Magnuson takes over and draws the soundscape into something more panoramic, with feelings that might be normally expressed through films that use a lot of saxophone themes. Simon Phillips’ drumming, however, keeps pulling quartet back into the arena with rock and roll rhythms pulled from the ’70s and ’80s.
Oh yeah, some guy named Tony Levin plays something called a Chapman Stick. He’s pretty good, too. (C’mon, I decided to play the CD as soon as I saw his name under Michael Whalen on the cover.)
What Michael Whalen does with his keyboards is, however, what makes this album so memorable and yet hard to peg. He says in the liner notes that his three main influences were Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Keith Jarrett and Return to Forever, and yes, those elements are out in the open and enjoying the dance. But his musical styles are also what supplies the mystery, that Kilgore Trout feeling of suddenly jumping into different musical eras It’s a surprisingly fun revue from Michael Whalen, relentlessly upbeat and never dull.