I recently reviewed the highly impressive Paradigms, the debut album by collective T.A.P. which included the founding member of Djam Karet, Gayle Ellett who, with his Electromags (core members T.A.P. and Djam Karet collaborator and Herd of Instinct founder, Mark Cook alongside drummer Craig Kahn) releases this wonderful album, Friends, a title referring to the fact that there are no fewer than twenty-two guest artists featured. They include members of California Guitar Trio, BARAKA, Minimum Vital, Aisles, Electric Swan, Shylock, and Edhels. Ellett rightly points to the fact that although much of this was collaborated upon digitally distantly (as is much of today’s recorded music), it does pass an important test that they sound as if they are all in one room jamming together under the same night sky. What is nice, by the way, is that the Bandcamp page for the album contains some fantastic links to all the guest artists websites. Take a look, and listen, at https://gayleelletttheelectromags.bandcamp.com/album/friends

What we have here is just short of an hour’s worth of high-quality instrumental rock music, a joy to listen to. Thirteen tracks in all. Let us briefly discuss each of them.

We open with the wonderfully titled Viewer Discretion Advised (for those of you with a sensitive disposition!), which features Ted Price with some great rumbling Hammond Organ on this leading a magnificent experimental blues piece, with some interesting noises and discernible excitement on some chords musically showing us precisely where the viewer discretion lies.

The Many Moods of Morgan features Brian Chapman of Californian outfit, Greenhorn Brothers, on electric guitar. The opening mood is a jazzy, happy delight, with a bright bassline and a band in utter harmony. The mood a minute in, with a deep electric guitar solo, is far more serious, contemplative. I love the Ellett keyboard led mood which follows, with some gorgeous bass and drum work providing for a jazz treat. The mood turns more pastorally progressive in the final minute with some delicate guitar work and orchestration inviting us to sit back and contemplate. I think this is an extremely clever piece of music.

Via Valencia features Alfonso Rodenas of (appropriately) Spanish band, Blue Dolphins (take a listen to the wonderful Painting Box here ▶︎ Painting Box | The Blue Dolphins (bandcamp.com). His bass thumps underneath, and his guitar work is delicately beautiful, whilst the drumming and Gayle’s underpinning rhythm guitar and keyboards perfectly capture the mood on a road movie set to music.

I love the clever wording of It’s All San Andreas’ Fault title, proof if any more were needed that we are dealing with a very clever and, indeed, very humorous human being here. The guests are Marc Ceccotii and Joee Corso on guitars. This piece fairly races along with some magnificent grooves, but also carrying the permanent threat of a repeat of that 1906 disaster, something, incidentally, well overdue, and Ellett’s Minimoog seems to build up to the event as exemplified by shrill and disturbing guitar solos. This is an intelligent track placing nature at its most frightening to music.

Transpacific Highway features Issei Takami & Shin Ichikawa of Japanese combo, Baraka – take a listen to a fusion delight at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihXTiyOuth4 I love this track, an expansive piece with exceptional heavy rock chords from the guests soaring between your ears with Ellett providing more Minimoog grooves, under which Kahn pushes matters along nicely.

Splitting Hairs features Dudley Taft on electric guitar. This is dripping with the blues, a masterful performance all round, with extremely complex musicianship highlighting the protagonists at their best, keys overlaying sensuous guitar and a rhythm section at the root. Those of you who are new to Ellett’s music, but declare your undying love for, say, Deep Purple’s sublime jamming moments will find much to enjoy here.

Maximum Connection features Thierry Payssan of French outfit, Minimum-Vital on synths and Bill Polits & Aquiles Magaña on guitars. The synth work is very quirky, reminiscent of some of Wakeman’s more experimental work, and the electric guitar work is very heavy, alongside some nice grooves, so some interesting contrasts in this one.

Three Parsecs From Tucson. In fact, three parsecs are something like 57 trillion miles, a mindboggling distance, and there is a sense of yearning for home in this piece. This features Carl Weingarten on electric guitar, Walter Whitney on synths, percussion & gongs, & David Udell on electric guitar. I love the distorted nature of the electric guitars, the bass grooves are so tuneful, and the rhythm guitar is at the heart of a psych masterclass, a track clearly influenced by late 60’s experimental rock music but brought very much into the modern era.

Maria’s Lakeside Drive features Barry Cleveland on a variety of guitars. This is a funky pleasure of a track, with the grooves of all concerned bringing a knowing smile to the listener, the variety of guitars and keyboards combining so well with the incessant bass and understated percussion underneath it all. The riffs produced by Cleveland at times screech with emotion.

California Guitar Trio alumni Paul Richards features on Guitar City. Ellett provides a masterclass in how a rhythm guitar can push a track along and lead alongside his dreamy keyboards, whilst Richards provides for some haunting electric riffs. Indeed, in the final passage, this city turns bleak in its riffs. This is a very strong track.

Sons of Sebastien features Lucio Calegari of Electric Swan, and Chilean artists from Aisles Project, German Vergara & Juan Pablo. The Ellett Minimoog solo at the start introduces a very eclectic track, intense and I think dark in its intent and execution. The guitar riffs especially are very deep and the Electromags rhythm section pulses with menace. As the piece develops, the menacing feel dissipates somewhat to bring to us a more traditional jazz feel.

Bueno Sanga is, I believe, meant to translate to us as “good company”, which certainly makes sense within the context of this album made with friends. It features Alvarez Ortega Bianchi of Argentinian band Los Pencales (give this wonderful album ▶︎ El Pichicho | LOS PENCALES (bandcamp.com) a listen) & Jim Crawford who performs an incredible guitar solo in the latter half of the track. There is a huge commercial sensibility to the chords and riffs produced on this, and it is an instrumental highlight of 2023, a piece guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

We close with 1960 Ocean Front Walk, featuring Frederic L’Epee on electric guitar. The Rhodes and bass at the start are stunning, and the electric guitar simply continues this, a track which has me visualising a permanently hot and sunny Californian coastal area, a lifelong, or eternal, vacation in the warm glow of our mother star. The mellotron of Ellett brings this dreamy feel even more to the fore.

It is no small feat to be able to bring together twenty-two guest musicians from all four corners of the world in addition to your own musical combo and create an album as seamless as this, and, crucially, as my very good friend Thomas “Prog Rogue” said in his wonderful review, to allow all these artists the space to breathe and stamp their authority on your personal project.

This album is a treat. It is something that lovers of intelligent instrumental rock music should be queueing to own.