During his 12-year stint with Yes, Trevor Rabin won acclaim as a major talent (and gave the band the hit that still dares not speak its name live). Since 1994 he’s dedicated his talents to movie soundtracks, so it’s good to see him pulling some instrumental ideas out of the drawer marked ‘just for me’, and having a ball with them.
The pleasing title of Rabin’s first solo album for 23 years is derived from a plant native to his childhood home, Johannesburg. It’s an emblem that recurs in his life: his studio’s called the Jacaranda Room and on 1989’s Can’t Look Away it’s mentioned in the uplifting anthem Something To Hold On To. This clearly brings him joy and puts him in a certain frame of mind – there’s ample proof of that here.
A consummate guitar player, Rabin turns his hand to most styles. Opener Spider Boogie showcases some fleet-fingered chicken-picking; the cheeky Market Street and stately Anerley Road (with Herbie Hancock bassist Tal Wilkenfeld) show off his deft acoustic slide work and multifarious approach.
This is very difficult music to categorise. It’s proggy, jazzy, even baroque in parts – rhythmically and stylistically all over the place. The heavy and contoured Through The Tunnel is powered by ex-Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and is quite the prog-rock feast. Rabin’s fast rock guitar passages remain distinctive throughout. His style isn’t as surgical as that of the modern-day shredder – you can hear the sparks and shrapnel flying off the plectrum, and that’s good.
The insistent Me And My Boy features his son Ryan on drums, and with its pipe-like, double-speed guitar melody the sweet, quietly complex The Branch Office offers a hint of Mike Oldfield. Piano piece Killarney 1&2 is a gorgeous palette cleanser, the all-too-brief Stork Bill Geranium Waltz gives way to the accomplished jazz of Freethought.
There’s a nod to his movie work in Rescue, a deep, dramatic string piece featuring vocalist Liz Constintine. Her powerful, expressionist lines have a non-specific, eastern quality, adhering to a trope of soundtracks from Gladiator to Battlestar Galactica. Named after a national park in Johannesburg, Zoo Lake sees Rabin at his most lyrical. His slide guitar is almost vocal in its phrasing, as behind him chords cascade but never resolve quite as your ear expects.
How fitting that the instrumental album blessed with this evocative name is so personal, inspired and likeable. Jacaranda leaves you feeling that the artist has really given of himself, and that perhaps you now know him a bit better – and how rare is that?