It’s an eternal dichotomy in the field of music-making: does technical knowledge and ability stifle creativity? There’s no real right or wrong answer, as it’s inevitably a matter of taste. The four-chord thud of punk and, later, of grunge, is a massive turnoff to prog afficionados, who bask in the technical detail of their music of choice, while the technical clinicality of prog and symphonic rock could make a punk spew.
Personally, I favour music that’s simple but effective, and drives to the heart of the matter. But I’m not deaf, and can appreciate that nuances like tone and timbre and a certain degree of measure can make all the difference. So, what to make of Geoff Tyson, an uber-guitarist pitched as being for fans of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani & Yngwie Malmsteen?
Tyson can boast that he was taught by Satriani himself, and he’s toured internationally with a host of artists for the last 20 years including Filter, Monster Magnet, Queens of The Stone Age and A Perfect Circle. His work has been used by HBO, MTV, UFC, and had his songs featured in TV commercials for Blackberry, Macy’s, and Lacoste.
In fact, Tyson has much to boast about, according to his bio ‘At 13 years old, Geoff started studying guitar with Joe Satriani, and refined his skills jamming with high school mates Alex Skolnick, Charlie Hunter, Jude Gold, and Joshua Redmond. Geoff is one of two students Satriani has said ‘Graduated’ from his lessons (the other being Steve Vai.) During one of his last lessons, Joe gave him a cassette of his then unreleased album “Surfing With The Alien” and Geoff knew Joe wouldn’t be teaching much longer’.
It’s a seriously impressive resumé. And ‘Drinks With Infinity’ features some pretty impressive guitar work, too, as you’d expect. Flying out of the traps with the electric blues boogie of ‘Six Weeks of Tina’, what’s more impressive than the fretwizardry of the solo work is the overall restraint Tyson displays, keeping the focus on the riff, the groove, the arc of the tune, and this is a common feature of many of the album’s 10 compositions.
The psych-hued space-rock ‘Shag’ lends itself nicely to expansive freewheeling soloing, but it doesn’t feel excessive or overly indulgent, while the proggy ‘Strawberry Napalm’ works precisely because it’s indulgent, of course.
Another positive is that most of the tracks are under four minutes long, meaning that none outstays its welcome has he explores a diverse range of styles.
When he does go wild on the showmanship, as on ‘Bark’ and ‘Monkey Love’ and ‘Freckle’, oh, he really does, packing in a week of noodling into just a couple of minutes. There’s no faulting the playing, and it’s a mercifully short if intense dose of excess.
It does have something of a cumulative effect, and as the album progresses, while the riffs get harder and faster, the breaks more atmospheric and more necessary, the fast fingerwork becomes more blinding and bewildering.
Still, ‘Are You With Me’ slows the pace and changes the mood down nicely just before it al gets too much, and again, it’s a mark of accomplishment that Tyson shows a certain awareness, and a grasp of dynamics, not just within each piece, but of the overall album experience.