Yossi Sassi – ‘Roots And Roads’ [Review]
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Innovative instrumental guitarists are a rare breed. Most still stick to recycling Satriani licks over stock-issue backing tracks. The standard has been set and met many times, but rarely exceeded.
Yossi Sassi is a notable exception. This guy has mastered many stringed instruments, the electric guitar being just one – and he’s even masterminded the creation of an entirely new instrument, the bouzoukitara – half guitar, half bouzouki. In short, Yossi Sassi is pretty much a one-man orchestra.
Fans of Jimmy Page’s ‘Guitar Army’ approach to composition and arrangement will instantly fall for Roots and Roads. The first moments of Wings immediately introduce the core of what Yossi Sassi refers to as “oriental rock,” multiple string-based timbres merging into glorious melodies while a solid rock groove holds everything down. It’s tempting to listen repeatedly to that track’s intro alone; there’s so much going on that you’ll find yourself picking up fresh subtleties each time you go back. Wings is also a vocal-led track – an interesting choice for someone primarily known for their six-string skills – and a very cool piece of songcraft.
Beyond Palm Dance, which pushes up the energy via animated percussion, spicy chords, a melody that falls somewhere between Satriani and Vai territory while retaining Yossi Sassi’s signature sense of flamboyance, and duelling slippery solos courtesy of Ben Azar and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, it quickly becomes clear that more is afoot than just instrumental guitar work. Root Out, The Religion Of Music, Thundercloud, Road Less Travelled, Rizes Kai Dromoi, and Stronger Than Ever – plus Wings – total seven vocal-led songs out of a sixteen-tune track listing. This is a clear step up from 2014’s Desert Butterflies, where vocals were a relative rarity.
In terms of vocal performances, Yossi Sassi’s cast of supporting characters (Diana Golbi, Zaher Zorgatti, and Sapir Fox) pull off consistently strong showings – but Sassi’s own vocals have come a long way over the last couple of years. Roots and Roads demonstrates far more vocal confidence on Sassi’s part, and it’s all the better for it – especially on Thundercloud, which ends far too soon but does lead nicely into the philosophical Road Less Travelled. Ultimately, though, Roots and Roads remains a predominantly guitar-centric album – and there’s no doubting the sheer degree of technical mastery constantly simmering under the surface here.
Bar The Explorientals, Sassi’s band’s chops are kept on tight leashes for the sake of emotional effectiveness – a smart move that prevents Roots and Roads from collapsing into a masturbatory black hole. During The Explorientals, expect everything under the jazz-funk-fusion sun from mental guitar spots to a devastating slap bass display from Or Lubianiker, a subtlety-riddled percussion section, and some tasteful acoustic soloing from the man with his name on the album cover. Outside that track’s near-five-minute confines, it’s clear that if any element stood a chance of obscuring a great melody, it got cut out. That’s the mark of a great composer and arranger, and Yossi Sassi is both.
If you cut out Mr. NoSoul, Madame TwoSouls, and Madame On Steroids and place them in a playlist of their own, you’ll find yourself listening to my favourite three instrumental cuts from Roots and Roads. Mr. NoSoul introduces far and away one of the best melodies on this album, while the latter pair turn progressively heavier, employing dark and twisted harmonic and metric modulations that literally stretch the pieces in question to breaking point. Meanwhile, Winter finds saxophone, piano, and distant licks winding around a severe triplet-based military riff, each thread unravelling before giving way to open soundscapes and tightly compressed tunnels; Bird Without A Tree employs choir vocals and fretless bass to convey an appropriately baseless mindset; and Quarter To Rizes reprises the core melody from Rizes Kai Dromoi in delicate acoustic form before a sombre trumpet* lends an Ennio Morricone feel to Roots and Roads’ closing moments, the album fading like a cowboy riding off alone into the sunset.
Although the influential connection between Yossi Sassi and Joe Satriani is tenuous at best, it’s still possible to compare Roots and Roads to Flying in a Blue Dream, in that it showcases a guitarist formerly synonymous with instrumentals stretching himself vocally – and pulling the results off with style. On his next album, Yossi Sassi may well be proven ready for genuine guitar god-dom.
TMMP RATING: 92%
*…although given the diversity of instruments used on this album, and the lack of a trumpet in the personnel listing, it may well be something else!
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