An emotionally gripping, creatively exhilarating culmination of 20 years of deep friendship and innovative collaborations by a group of Los Angeles' most acclaimed musicians, Random Traveler's long-anticipated debut Odyssey celebrates the powerful spirit of independent record making. Living brilliantly up to the formidable promise of it's unique title, the album is an unforgettable journey that taps into the vast influences that have marked the careers of co-leaders and co-producers Scott Brannon (bass and drums) and Wayne Smith (bass and guitars). "These range from classic rockers like Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Dixie Dregs and the R&B I played growing up in South Carolina to legendary fusion artists like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea, as well as more pop/funk groups like Tower of Power," says Brannon, who launched his career as a teenager playing with members of the Dregs and Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Our musical philosophy is simple and open-ended. We just get the ball rolling and let the tunes take whatever direction they want to. Some are more pop and commercially accessible and others take a more progressive approach. The key throughout is playing everything with musical intensity. The music that Wayne and I make has evolved over many years of performing live with each other and many of the players who join us on Odyssey." The 11 tracks, which also feature key contributions from violinist Ted Falcon, saxmen Albert Wing, Jeff Nathanson and Brandon Fields, keyboardists Russell Ferrante and Bob Mocarsky, percussionist Steve Reid and horn masters The Fowler Brothers, range from the contemporary funk jazz of the sax driven "Provider" and "Looking Back" to the more adventurous, Vital Information/Scott Henderson type licks of the darker bottomed "Code 7," the hypnotically percussive "Percolator" and the heavy grooving, fiery jam "Advance Bet," which features one of the many wild Falcon violin solos that infuse the collection. For every trippy, out there moment like "Segway," there's a balance of midtempo cool like the sax driven, vocal-tinged romance "I Thought Of You" and the feisty, horn drenched R&B playtime of "Hop, Skip & A Jump." Aside from the masterful musical hybrid that Random Traveler achieves, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of both the recording Odyssey and a live date by the band is the incredible two-fisted approach Scott Brannon uses to create a virtual, riveting one-man rhythm section. While his left hand keeps time on the drums, the fingers on his right hand simultaneous tap chords on a bass-he works on both fretless and fretted--which lies on a stand as part of his drum kit. He's been mastering this technique for the past 15 years, during which time he's moved up from a four string fretless to a six string, learned to employ looping techniques and continuously added drums to his kit. Brannon's unrivaled rhythmic technique began innocently back in the late 70s when he lived in Boulder Colorado. His friend Kim Stone-currently renowned for his many years playing with The Rippingtons-gave him a four string, Paul McCartney-styled fretless, and Brannon was sitting around with Stone and guitarist Mike Miller, just experimenting one day. "The bass was sitting in my lap and I started tapping out the harmonics of the Yes tune 'The Fish,'" he says. "Then with the other hand, I started tapping on my knee like it was a drum. A few weeks later, after a gig, I took the bass and laid it across my tom toms and started tapping the bass and playing drums at the same time. I had a drum shop design a special stand for me. After a few years of playing this way, I got even bolder, using a double neck guitar/bass, which allowed me to basically play guitar, bass and drums simultaneously. Later, after I moved to L.A., Kim gave me a 5-string bass and I started taking lessons from Mike Miller and bassist Tom Fowler. At first it was all about having the chops but then through practice I was able to master modes and positions." Brannon first met Smith on the L.A. club scene in the late 80s, when Smith was playing bass with a friend of Brannon's and Brannon was a popular drummer on the scene. They started composing and performing fusion-oriented tracks immediately, and before long, they were known as Threshold and were opening gigs in L.A. and Colorado for classic rockers like John Entwistle and Robin Trower. Inspired by the way rock audiences reacted to their blend of rock and jazz fusion, the tandem continued to evolve over the years under different monikers, from Cause and Effect to The Scott Brannon Band. They have shared bills with everyone from Allan Holdsworth, Mark Isham and Kenny Rankin to Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter, Pieces of a Dream, Acoustic Alchemy, Tim Weisberg and Keiko Matsui. A native Texan, Scott Brannon moved to Boulder after attending North Texas State. While living in Colorado, he played and/or recorded with his pals Kim Stone and Mike Miller as well as popular contemporary jazz performers like Bobby Rangell and Rob Mullins and famed pop/rockers like Robben Ford, Stephen Stills, Joe Walsh, Lowell George, Dan Fogelberg, Stanley Clarke and Tommy Bolin. In addition to his work with Wayne Smith, Brannon performed in the feature film Picture This and produced, engineered and played drums on CD projects by Stone and Michael John. He also owns Segway Media Services, a Los Angeles based replication company. Brannon's one solo CD was a hammer dulcimer project called Expedition: Adventures on Hammer Dulcimer (1997). Son of a classical string bass player and music teacher, Wayne Smith grew up torn between classical and big band and the rock influences of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Jeff Beck. A virtual musical prodigy-he started on clarinet at 8, trumpet at 10 and guitar and bass by 13-he played guitar with his high school stage band and won the best guitarist award at the Sonoma State Jazz Festival. The Sacramento native moved to L.A. in 1979 to tour and record with Dirk Hamilton, whom he played with through 1983; during this same period, he performed with the instrumental R&B jazz group The Steve Hooks Band. During his early days working with Brannon, he also traded fours with Sony Charles, the original Checkmates lead vocalist, and Capitol Recording artist John Andrew Parks. "Wayne and I have been playing for close to 20 years, and with the exception of Ted Falcon, who joined us three years ago, we've played on and off with most of the other guys on this album over that period of time," says Brannon. "Wayne and I have a great chemistry, where we're very open with each other and constantly make suggestions as to how to improve this or that. He plays more guitar on Odyssey, but he's also a great bass player who has helped me improve my own bass playing. Some of these tunes are updated arrangements of songs we were doing in the early days. So this is a true labor of love whose time has come after nearly 20 years in the making." THE SONGS The title of Random Traveler's CD Odyssey came from the former name for the ever-evolving Scott Brannon-Wayne Smith ensemble. "When we first manufactured the CD and did the artwork, we called the band Odyssey," says Brannon, "but we later realized there had been other groups with this name, so we changed our group name to the title of one of the songs which fit our vibe equally well. It's a cooler name that nobody else has ever had." The journey begins begins with the pop and jazz flavored, easygoing funk gem "Provider," which is driven by Jeff Nathanson's bright and seductive sax. "Wayne brought in the original idea and I worked out all the rhythm section parts," says Brannon. "Jeff wrote the melody over that foundation. Tunes like this one evolved over time as we worked them out in the studio. The title draws from the idea that right off the bat, we're bringing something of substance to the table." The moody, mystical intro to "Looking Back"-which includes the hypnotic pitter patter percussion of Martin Flores and Julio Ledezma-slowly eases into another sax-driven tune that takes on a more bubbling, aggressive bounce. "This is one of my oldest tunes, one of the first I ever played using bass and drums at the same time. Again, once Wayne and I worked out the rhythms, Jeff helped us create the melody." There's a poignant story behind the light to dark moodswings of "Treehouse." Walt Fowler's flugelhorn and his brother Steve Fowler's flutes were recorded in 1989. While most of the older material has been redone for the new project, Steve's flute lines are those he recorded years ago; he has been afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease for many years. Brannon and Smith took the two-inch tape with the original tracks and digitized them in order to put them on the newly recorded sections. "One of the best things about growing up in the South was having a treehouse in the woods," Brannon recalls. "It was a place we could go and have fun!" The interlude piece "Segway" is a unique and trippy, ambient exercise in guitar acoustics. "It's just guitar and sax, and I also play the gong. Wayne figured out how to play his guitar with a long delay. He uses the volume to swell up the chord once he hits it, creating a synth like effect." "Code 7" is where Random Traveler really gets rockin' in the style of classic, full throttle guitar driven fusion; the track has a dark bottomed drum/bass groove and a haunting synth harmony behind a crisp electric guitar melody. "Ted Falcon, our violinist, joined the band after most of the tunes were recorded, so we get him in on the end," says Brannon. "This is another of my early tunes. I realized I could get these harmonics and hammer the bass notes as well. It's original title was 'Code 7 From Outer Space' about a weird experience I had encountering a spaceship on a bright night near Golden, Colorado when I lived in Boulder. I love to tell the story about it at gigs. It was really a life transforming event for me." Brannon and Smith wrote "Gatekeeper"-which launches from a mid-tempo ballad into a harder blowing jam heavy on the sax and high hat--with their old friend and on and off bandmate Albert Wing. "We'd laid down a great rhythmic bed and asked Albert to write a melody. This is a tune he played from beginning to end, both the melody and solos. Listen to the way he plays those solos, they're astounding. He's an unbelievable sax player." It's no surprise that "Advance Bet" was written about a horse race-more specifically, former Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. It's got a speedy funk groove, snappy quick guitar line and a swirling violin solo by Falcon that takes the tune to the next level. "Wayne is mostly responsible for the melody," says Brannon, "and bringing Ted in later on it definitely raised the bar. I made an advance bet on that horse at 30-1 odds and bought my first bass rig ever with the winnings!" "I Thought Of You" takes things down a notch, into the adult contemporary, mid-tempo romantic ballad realm. Featured guests include saxman Brandon Fields, keyboardist Bob Mocarsky (an old bandmate of Brannon's from his Colorado days), percussionist Steve Reid and Ricky Cosentino on backing vocals. The colorful textures of "Random Traveler" range from sweet and gentle to exotically Latin to a harder-grooving workout between Falcon and Smith (who also plays fretless bass). "Wayne wrote everything on that," says Brannon. "He actually played two basses on that. This one goes to a lot of places rhythmically and harmonically, which made it perfect ultimately for the name of the band itself." The well titled "Percolator" features Brannon's wild and bubbling bass and drum action. The drum and bass build in intensity for several minutes before Smith and Nathanson chime in with some of their edgiest soloing on the record. "Hop, Skip & A Jump" is bright and happy, smooth jazz funk flavored tune spiced with R&B flavored brass accents in the tradition of Tower of Power. "TOP is one of our big influences, particularly Wayne, who is from Northern California and played a lot in the Bay Area," says Brannon. "It was originally an instrumental but we thought it would be fun to let Ricky come in and sing again!"
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