Review Summary: The (Jazz) CollectiveLightbox
is about as unsurprising a choice for a solo album as Scale the Summit mastermind Chris Letchford could make at this point in his career. Many of the influences you'll hear on Lightbox
are similar to those you'd hear on an album like The Collective
, but heavier on a jazz technique Letchford has been perfecting throughout his time in the progressive metal arena. With enough time counted perfecting that underlying technique, why not let it show?
as a concept is built from the ground up to do just that. Played without distortion, the album makes the most of a clean and smooth sound that compliments its bass-heavy swagger and airy piano backdrop. Given the propensity of Scale the Summit to play quite a few clean passages in their normal sound, it's again, nothing out of the admittedly complex routine for Letchford. But while a bit expected, it's still enough of a curveball to breathe some fresh air into fans of Chris's virtuosic style of progressive metal.
Another welcome, exciting, and expected "curveball" comes in the inclusion of Danny Pizarro and Steven Padin, members of The Reign of Kindo, on piano and drums. Naturally, both Kindo members (who may be even closer to this style of jazz-rock than Letchford himself) contribute more than ably, as do bassists Evan Brewer (Reflux, The Faceless) and familiar face Mark Michell (Scale the Summit), who work with Chris to provide a staple groove on every track. Truth be told, though the influence from the Kindo camp is lighter, Lightbox
has a vibe of Kindo and Scale the Summit getting off a smoky nightclub stage they'd shared together moments ago only to relax with a musical conversation outdoors on a breezy summer day.
Of course, the topic at hand is jazz, and while jazz has always played a more subdued part in the overall rock and metal mentality of Scale the Summit, Lightbox
flips the formula on its head to drive jazz out on top with metal influence driving the change-ups on the record. Low-end leaning guitar and bass lines are given precedence in most situations, while leads err towards meandering while never feeling like they've hit the unbeaten jazz path of improvisation. Again unsurprisingly, Letchford has a rather clear roadmap for all of the instruments heard on Lightbox
, but, true to form, his meticulous craftsmanship lines each note up perfectly to provide just the right amount of substance and breath.
Like much of Scale the Summit's work, the music on Lightbox
feels reminiscent of a musical landscape. While it bears the heavyweight consistency of an album like The Collective
, it shows off a brightness and openness that, again, separates it from the jazz contingent and brings it closer to its spacious and majestic cover art. There are dark clouds off on the horizon that shade some of the tracks here, but blue skies and bright, arid ground shape the majority of the musical landscape.
Yet one of the most enjoyable things about Lightbox
is that it's an album you can both let wisp right by you and delve into. Tracks like "Sign of Four" have enough open chord progressions that you can relax to it in bed or outdoors on a warm summer day, yet it's complex enough to give your brain the jolt of alertness needed to plow through studies or a slow workday. "In Force" (which is easily the track most similar to Chris's Scale the Summit outings) bears enough dark edge that it feels like it could have been a part of The Collective
, while "Ghost Orchid" is driven by its quiet, but impressive drumming and flighty, piano-based treble. With so much to offer, it's a surprise that the album is almost entirely devoid of missteps.
Or is it, really? Letchford is such a consistently brilliant musical force that his musical acuity is almost guaranteed. It can be easy to take that for granted, but it's even easier to recognize the prize that Lightbox
is. Wonderfully adaptive and a treat from start to finish, Lightbox
intrigues and succeeds by flipping a tried and true "jazz to rock" ratio on its head. Sure, the ratio may have just switched from 40:60 to 60:40, but with cerebral and organic instrumental ventures like these, who's going to argue?