Animals As Leaders' Tosin Abasi picks 10 essential guitar albums
On Animals As Leaders' recently released third album, The Joy Of Motion, Tosin Abasi and his longtime cohort Javier Reyes stun and amaze with daring feats of eight-string guitar wizardry. But the chops-a-plenty duo made a conscious effort to serve the songs first and keep the intentional showboating to an absolute minimum.
“I don't know if you call it maturity or just evolution," Abasi says. "I took a step back and made an honest statement about what each song needed rather than showing how many sweep patterns I could throw in. The new record's more lyrical. I think I’ve gotten to a place where I’m comfortable with my playing, and I don’t have to flaunt my ability."
Abasi approached his solos differently than in the past, downplaying the shred/djent elements in his playing and emphasizing melody, mood and emotion. “It all came down to ‘What are you saying? What do you want to convey?'’' Abasi explains. "I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B and gospel and sort of neo-soul guitar players, and they put me in a different mindset. I was never one to do a lot bending or blues-isms, but I’m doing more of that on this record. I’m playing the fewest amount of notes than I ever have. It feels right."
As an early teenager, Abasi developed his interest in guitar-oriented music by listening to bands such as The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and Incubus. "That stuff was definitely cool and dynamic," he enthuses. "Even though they had vocals, the guitars were in the forefront. The focus of the bands' sounds came from what the guitarist was doing."
Next, Abasi fell under the spell of virtuosos like Yngwie Malmsteen, Greg Howe and John Petrucci. "Those guys really made a big impression on me,” he says. “They just seemed to cover it all at once: composition, melody, sound, and just total creativity and mastery of the instrument. Listening to them gave me a lot to work toward."
And wouldn't you know it? Malmsteen, Howe and Petrucci are all represented on the following pages as Abasi runs down his choices for 10 essential guitar albums.
To purchase Animals As Leaders' The Joy Of Motion, visit the Sumerian Records website, Amazon or iTunes. Photo of Tosin Abasi © Larry DiMarzio 2013. Check out the DiMarzio Ionizer 8 Pickup (designed for Tosin Abasi) here: neck, middle and bridge. Watch the video.
Steve Vai – Passion & Warfare (1990)
“I bought it on cassette tape. It was the first instrumental guitar-driven album I ever got. I just remember digging the riffs as much as the leads. Steve did a phenomenal job as an overall composer. These are complete songs, not just monster guitar chops exercises.
“The use of effects is fantastic. Steve put all of these cool vocal samples and weird bits of dialogue on the record. All around, it’s a pretty immersive listening experience, very broad and imaginative.”
Yngwie Malmsteen – The Yngwie Malmsteen Collection (1991)
“Absolutely incredible. Beyond his neo-classical playing is the sort of Hendrix stuff he would do; when he gets bluesy, he’s just burning.
“He’s been a huge influence on me. One of the best ever. I never scalloped one of my guitar necks, but I think I might get into it on a newer guitar. No joke. I played one the other day and liked it, so I’m going to experiment. Maybe I’ll play some Yngwie on it.”
Greg Howe – Introspection (1993)
“Greg is unbelievable, and this album is just phenomenal. Beyond the chops and his incredible legato phrasing, there’s some really great songs with choruses. It’s instrumental, but there are moments where the music returns to a spot and you go, ‘Oh, that’s the chorus, for sure.’
“Greg is a brilliant melodic shredder. I think he stands apart from a lot of guys because of his melodicism, but he doesn’t sacrifice his chops at all. He’s a huge one for me.”
Dream Theater – Awake (1994)
“Dream Theater covers so many styles of music, so it’s easy to get lost in everything they’re capable of doing. They can compose really wild progressive metal, but they can also work in parts that sound like Pink Floyd of The Beatles. So much musical depth.
“And, of course, you've got John Petrucci – talk about a well-rounded player. Whether it's his riffs or his solos or even just little licks here and there, everything he does is memorable. Scenes From A Memory is a really great album, but I think Awake is my favorite. I think I might have listened to this one the most.”
Guthrie Govan – Erotic Cakes (2006)
“Guthrie is a super-cool dude, and he just might be the perfect electric guitar player. Everything he does, I just go, ‘Right. Why would you want to do anything else?’
“What an album! The songs are memorable, melodic and catchy. The chops are outlandish – there’s odd-metered stuff and cool tapping. Put all that together – captivating compositions and flat-out astounding guitar work – and you’ve got something massive.”
Allan Holdsworth – Secrets (1989)
“Any Allan Holdsworth record is great, but Secrets is essential listening. It’s hard to describe what he does, in a way – it’s something you have to experience to fully understand.
“I was aware of Allan before I heard this record – I saw him talked about in a lot of places – but when I put on Secrets, that’s when I was like, ‘OK, I get it.’ Songs like City Nights are so beautifully unique and expressive. I’d call Allan Holdsworth a blessing to the world of music.”
Jimmy Herring – Lifeboat (2008)
“Jimmy Herring is an amazing player. I don’t know if ‘underrated’ is a term I can fully apply, because anybody who knows his work loves him. But he’s not at the forefront of guitar dudes, so I guess you could say he’s a bit underground.
“His playing is extremely expressive. I think he comes from more of an R&B and blues background, but a lot of his hip, melodic concepts stem from modern jazz. His touch is amazing. He’s got the right amount of chops and some really cool phrasing.”
Kurt Rosenwinkel – The Next Step (2001)
“Kurt is maybe what some people would call ‘post-bop.’ It’s modern bebop. He has a really incredible sense of harmony, and his compositional skills are pretty high up there.
“This album kind of did it for me as far as jazz goes. It sealed the deal and made me a full-fledged jazz fan. Kurt avoids a lot of obvious tonalities; he exists in this in-between space of melody. Hearing him motivated me to expand my own playing and get beyond certain clichés.”
Adam Rogers – Apparitions (2005)
“Adam is another modern jazz/bebop guitarist who also studied classic guitar. He has a really unique sense of harmony, sensational compositional skills and just killer chops.
“This is a must-listen. I could say, ‘Listen to anything by Adam Rogers’ and not steer anybody wrong, but I have a certain fondness for this album. Check it out and then seek out everything else with his name on it.”
Jonathan Kreisberg – Shadowless (2011)
“Another great jazz guitarist with great chops and compositional smarts. He’s pretty awesome. He’ll make any guitarist think twice about what they’re doing unless they’re already aware of him.
“Any record that you could pick up that has Jonathan Kreisberg on it is bound to be a worthwhile experience. I like Shadowless a lot. It’s a really surprising listen from start to finish.”