Metro is a group or better said a project created in 1994 by Chuck Loeb and Mitchel Forman, who are friends since their work for Stan Getz. The group was joined by German drummer Wolfgang Haffner. In this constellation the group exists till today. First bassist of Metro was Anthony Jackson (1994), followed by Victor Bailey (1995), Mel Brown (2002) and now Will Lee (2007). After their debut album Metro (1994) the band has released Tree People (1995), Metrocafé (2000), Grapevine (2002), Live At The A-Trane (2006) and Express (2007).

The group Metro is a constant factor in the contemporary jazz scene. Their music is ambitious and doesn't sneak a look on the smooth jazz market. So you will not find Metro's music in the smooth jazz charts. Nevertheless Metro's music is entertaining and gripping. Metro performs without platitudes. That makes them unique and memorable.

Starter of the album is The Red Fish. Chuck displays the introducing melody with some edges while Mitch develops the melodious counterpart. In the last part of the tune the group changes style and tempo to a jazzy interpretation. Mitch expands his piano performance to a wild demonstration of his mastership.

Tell Me A Thousand Times reveals the smooth side of the group with a captivating theme. Since Bruce Hornsby this kind of piano art is my secret love. Chuck adds his own electric guitar sound  but not in the way he uses to play on his own solo albums. His guitar sets a raw counterbalancing component.

Pat Metheny is in the air. Rio Frio follows the road Pat has build. Loeb's guitar performance is subtle, multilayered and breathtaking complex. The same is to say about Mitch's piano virtuosity.

On Maikle Burreka Metro presents their own view of Africa. A multi-colored explosion of African Spirit in the tradition of South African township music (Yashelela Africa/ Ubuhle be Africa).

Express is a synonym for rapidity and dynamic. A specialty of drummer Wolfgang Haffner, often shown on his own solo projects. He composed this tune and propels the group with his constant drive. The mid-tempo Sloth is an excursion into relaxing atmosphere with an acceleration to the end.

If you want to attend a concert of Chuck Loeb as a Rock star, listen to Up Above the Stars to get the first taste. Chuck fascinates with mighty chords on his distortion guitar. This part is embedded in a mysterious sound collage created by wizard Mitchel Forman.

The contemplative face of Metro shines on Nuna. Chuck in a Wes Montgomery-like attitude, Mitch's keyboard magic, Will's sensible bass and Wolfgang's brush technique are spell bounding. The up-tempo Absynth Blues tests the borders of fusion jazz.

Bassist Will Lee is known for his discrete performance. Jason Miles comments: "He is a superior musician who constantly makes everyone around him sound better. I can say that he is the ultimate bass player who blends rather than take the lead. Nobody can propel a rhythm section like Will. He may not stand out like Marcus, Victor, Stanley but if you ask any of those players their opinion on Will they will give him glowing remarks knowing the effect he has had on bass players through the years." That said enjoy Will's bass play on The Standard.

On the stunning final Slow Down Will Lee showcases his groovy vocals and puts the frosting on your cake. Awesome and so charismatic.

Metro did it again. Fans of contemporary jazz don't worry, you have found your Christmas gift.

review by hbh

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Is it possible to become obsessed with a fragment of a song. I think so. I was that way about the part of Pat Metheny Group's "Roots of Coincidence" where it builds and builds and gets louder and louder then just. Stops. So here is Metro's "Up Above The Stars" which starts with a little sonic distortion but a decidedly "Last Train Home" mode, albeit a little chunkier and thick on the underside and about 2:45 in there is THE GUITAR SOLO to end all guitar solos. Fast, furious, clean and distorted at the same time. Then it breaks into the kind of anthemic hard rock instrumental that those of us whose "songs you grew up with" include more Metal than Manilow can grab onto and just ride. Delivered by Chuck Loeb (he of the current top 20 smooth jazz single). Richard Smith, another of my guitar heroes, has this story he tells onstage about the guys who stand on the front row and gawk during the solos then come up after the show with this kinda dazed look about them and just blurt out "Dude, you shred." That's the state this band has put me in. Dudes, you shred. Your CD has taken over my iPod and my laptop and it won't give them back.  
 
At some point fusion got a bad rep. It was probably driven by the excesses of a crop of followers who didn't have the virtuosity of Corea and Return To Forever, Weather Report, John McLaughlin, or Jeff Beck and tried to cover that lack with noise, distortion, and solos that had speed but no nuance. Fusion originally implied a melding of jazz and rock. Not a bad thing at all, especially for listeners whose musical explorations were going in both these directions and covering all the territory in between. On Express, Metro brings a fresh new perspective that blends classic fusion influences with world music, straightahead jazz, chill and ambient, blues and even a little Euro-electronica. On this outing there are also a noticeable amount of Metheny-isms. It isn't imitative but there are melodic and textural similarities throughout. PMG's brilliant and groundbreaking The Way Up is still opening new layers of revelation with each listen, but three years in you start looking around for something else that will offer some continuity of that experience - the immersion into music that is transcendent and raw, complex and sparse, lyrical and loud all within the same framework. This is the album that can do just that.  
 
Who better to create definitive 21st century fusion than Mitchel Forman and Chuck Loeb - virtuoso musicians who know no stylistic boundaries. Forman played with John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter (Weather Report), Loeb's career as a musician and producer spans decades and genres. Add drummer Wolfgang Haffner and bassist Will Lee (most familar as the bassist with Paul Shaffer and the "CBS Orchestra" on the "Late Show with David Letterman') and you have a power quartet to reckon with. It's obvious that these sessions reverberated with the joy of playing with no commercial restraints. No research guru or label executive would let this music see the light of day. Not a single song "stays put." They all throw a stunning arsenal of solos, ensemble work, rhythmic and textural shifts, and unbounded influences around the core of the individual songs. The opener, "The Red Fish," teases you into mellow land with a loose funky groove then flips into tradeoff solos between Foreman and Loeb over a chunky backbeat and blasts of synth-horns. Straightahead chops mutate into evil blues-rock complete with B3 in "Sloth." Layers of shimmering sonic effects wrap around a lyrical piano melody that builds and breaks into another DudeUShred Loeb solo (this one at 3:58 in case you're keeping score) in "Tell me A Thousand Times," and "Up Above The Stars" has Forman soloing over layers of chilled out sounds and effects that break into the above mentioned Loeb solo then retract back to subtlety. Loeb lays Wes Montgomery octaves over a Chick Corea sounding Rhodes in "Nuna" and the moody and almost classical mood of "The Standard" then delivers a torrent of dizzyingly fast notes, each one clean and precise, in the exhilarating Eurobeat propelled title song.  "Absynth Blues" sounds like Jeff Beck meets Return To Forever (updated). The Metheny influence on “Rio Frio” is undeniable - the time signature, tone, and swirling vocal chant at the end. Similar guitar shadings and PMG-like shifts in mood and space show up often throughout this music, probably because these musicians have also reached the level where they can pull it off. What makes Express so appealing and a few notches more accessible than most current fusion projects is the melodic framework. The songs on this CD unfold and wrap around passages of introspective melody and elegant beauty that leave you breathless as they gain momentum.  

If you grew up with prog-rock then moved into fusion you're going to hear a lot of what brought you to that place and what you didn't know you were missing until this band put it all together and served it up 21st century style. If the experimental side of the music is new to you there is no better jumping off point than here because these songs always bring you back to that melodic place. This is a keeper, one that will hold up over the long run and keep revealing gratifying subtleties along the way.

 

Shannon West /Smooth Views.com

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I've listened to Metro's latest release a half dozen times over the last week – and I've probably read and re-read the ContemporaryJazz.com Forum thread regarding Express just as many times. I'm not sure if I get it or I'm missing something – yes, this release is not as rocking and balls to the wall as MetroLive was, but after all, that was probably their most rock like recording to date. Express is more melodic, employs some wordless and background vocals, and Chuck Loeb does mix it up guitar – but this release also wails. Just listen to "Tell Me A Thousand Times," "Absynth Blues," or "Express." Looking back, I'm not sure that this disc is that far a departure from Grapevine or Metrocafe. It's definitely smoother, in a polished, production kind of way, than Tree People, Metro, or Petite Blonde were, which is not a bad thing. In my mind, it's more evolutionary than anything. Considering how busy and in demand Mitchel Forman and Chuck Loeb are, I'm grateful that this group of musicians has been able to find the time to come together and collaborate – as fans, we're better off for it. Judging from the buzz on the ContemporaryJazz.com Forum, there are quite a few fans out there. Oh, by the way, for those of you who think Express is a smooth jazz sellout – put your headphones on and turn up the volume while listening to "Up Above The Stars."

 

Contemporary Jazz.com /John Luciano

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Here you have a consortium of fabled session musicians/solo artists who seem to do everything just right.  Yet unlike many projects of this ilk, these musicians inject a deeply personal slant into the grand scheme of things, abetted by ongoing affiliations and the 1994 advent of the Metro collective.  In effect, they skirt and overcome that sometimes opaque delineation of contempo, radio-friendly jazz-fusion with enviable chops, flash and some razzle-dazzle.  However, the tall order of the day equates to the group’s strong compositions, generally tinged with melodic hooks and multi-textural sound designs.  It’s a study in contrasts, where Mitch Forman employs electric keys and acoustic piano, to coincide with guitarist Chuck Loeb’s distortion-laced heroics and jazzy chord progressions.  On pieces such as “Rio Frio and “Express,” the artists work through windswept themes and soaring, in-your-face movements, largely spiced with engaging melody lines.  Otherwise, they merge two distinct and perhaps uncommon elements into a stylish group-centric sound.  So, staunch jazz-fusion advocates and those who cherish accessibility via songs composed on solid ground should find much to gain by checking out their latest effort. 

Drummer Wolfgang Haffner pounds out a booming rock groove during “Up Above The Stars,” while Loeb’s wailing licks segue into Forman’s ethereal synth swashes and multi-colored mosaics.  And with other works featuring bump, grind and blitzing fusiony passages, they temper the flow on the moody ballad titled “The Standard.”  Nonetheless, this is a standout effort and marks a personal highlight for me during a very hearty 2007 music year.  Simply stated, these folks have concocted a near perfect homogenization of jazz-influenced styles that warrants repeated spins.

jazzreview.com / Glenn Astaria