This is Australian guitarist Nick Freer’s debut as a bandleader. His style undoubtedly draws comparisons to the great Allan Holdsworth. In fact, he’s currently working on a thesis for his PhD, entitled “The Improvisational Process of Guitarist Allan Holdsworth: Ontology and Analysis of Selected Works” at Monash University in Melbourne. Not a mere copy or tribute, Freer manages to elicit the same dropped jaws that Holdsworth has for two generations with his technique and compositional stylings. A search of online videos reveals that Freer is indeed multi-faceted, however; he can play more ‘straight ahead’ and with an understated lyricism that translates to the material on The Unsuspecting as well.
“Glyph” starts things off with a sound that will be familiar to fusion fans. One might hear shades of the great Frank Gambale here. Synthesizer tones usher in Heavy the Crown and are followed by impressive sax playing from Carlo Barbaro. The saxophone is a nice touch and sets this recording apart from some of the more guitar-only shred albums that abound. Having said that, Freer’s blistering playing here may well be the highlight of the album. On Darwinism, the guitar lands on clever chord tones, showing Freer’s capable grasp of sometimes dense-yet-hummable harmonies. The intensity builds with ever increasing speedy legato runs; “sheets of sound” indeed. Wayland must have been a fun tune for the bassist, and Freer employs controlled feedback, serious rock tones, and tempo changes to good effect.
The Pall finds Freer on acoustic guitar (with the full band) with Barbaro’s saxophone playing the melody. A nice unexpected change of pace with Rhodes piano sounds and a lighter feel. Jazz Apostasy delivers more legato guitar that doesn’t seem to be overdone or flashy, just appropriate for the tune. The repetitive riffage on Telepathy reminds one of the classic 1970’s fusion, when collisions of rock and jazz styles were a new thing.
Wayland Abstractum (Do Not Look Up) is a brief, somewhat Corea-esque synth-driven piece. Delusion brings the dynamic down to a quieter place, yet the guitar is still able to shine. The title track “The Unsuspecting” features rock chords with a prog vibe and lots of adventurous playing from Freer. This might be the most accessible track and a good place to introduce friends to the genius of Nick Freer.
For fusion fans, there’s not much to dislike here. The recording quality is excellent, the compositions are smartly put together, and the band Freer assembled is highly capable. We hope Nick Freer can gain some notoriety and well-deserved exposure. Recommended for fans of Holdsworth, Gambale, Steve Topping, Shawn Lane and early Scott Henderson.