Review – Derek Sherinian – Vortex – by John Wenlock-Smith

Derek Sherinian is very much a keyboard player of the new millennium. Born in California in Laguna Beach in 1966, he has worked with many of the world’s finest progressive and metal groups, either as a member or a touring musician. His latest venture being with the progressive metal super group Sons Of Apollo, where, alongside Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Jeff Scott Soto, they offer a very sophisticated and earnest progressive metal sound.

Alongside this activity Derek is also a solo artist has produced no less than nine solo albums of which this one, ‘Vortex’, is the latest. Unusually, he likes to play off against some of rock’s finest guitarists as he enjoys the challenge this offers, plus he is a big fan of guitars and their exponents!

This means that his albums have featured many of rocks finest six string heroes, including Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai and Joe Bonamassa, amongst others. This album continues that tradition with the prowess of Zakk Wylde and Joe Bonamassa appearing once more, along with Steve Lukather of Toto, Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme and the legendary Michael Schenker, the album also features Ron Bumblefoot Thal and noted jazz guitarist Mike Stern. Also present are Tony Franklin on bass and Simon Phillips, who not only provides the drums but also produced the album with Derek.

So we have a stellar line of talent, but is it any good you ask?

Well the answer is a resounding yes! It’s a very fine album with lots of exciting solos and performances, the only downside for me is that, good as these players are, the lack of vocals means this can be seen as very high class muzak at times as it is an intense listen and not something that you can play in the background really. It requires active listening to really get the most out of it all, well, in my opinion anyway!

The album opens with the strong track The Vortex which has Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame providing some fiery guitar tones and lines. Derek’s music is often jazz/fusion in style and tone, as he feels that it allows him freedom to express himself. Opening with a torrent of synthesisers and some hard hitting drumming, this is a ferocious, attacking number with a strong melody that allows the guitar to break through at points, especially for the solo. It’s all very rhythmically driven and is a good opener really, but it does set the stall for much that follows. While there is little doubt of the quality of the musicianship, for this listener, it really does call for some vocals that could enhance what is already on offer and allow the solos to be as appraiser rather than a continuous cycle. Fire Horse follows and features Nuno Bettancourt (Extreme) who shreds freely over the track but, again, while his playing is fluid and impressive, I feel it is all showmanship without a ‘proper’ song to support it. To me, you could say it feels a little empty, all very  worthy but really needs to be in support of, rather than being, the main attraction.

Third track The Scorpion fares better featuring Derek’s very Keith Emerson like piano to fine effect, along with some fabulous bass work from Ric Fierabracci, who plays some great fretted and fretless bass lines. Also noteworthy is the track Seven Seas with Steve Stevens again and also, who provides sterling bass work. This is a real monster with great playing and very fluid guitar lines from Stevens, who again proves himself to be a formidable player who can shred with the best of them, a really impressive track.

Key Lime Blues features both Joe Bonamassa and Steve Lukather trading licks in a really funky sounding number similar to Bonamassa’s Rock Candy Funk Party sound and excursions of previous years. Again, this is a launching pad for wild solos from all concerned but it sure does sound good. There is also a superborgan part from Sherinian which adds to the track significantly. Die Cobra features the unusual combination of Zakk Wylde and Michael Schenker playing and trading guitar riffs, lines and fills. It is quite a thunderous track with an aggressive sound before slowing to a more melodious section where you hear some typical Schenker tones and sequences that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early MSG album. The track then reverts back to the harder edge initial sound. These two work well together which, when you consider it was all done remotely, is very impressive sounding indeed! It also has a touch of the middle east to it, not unlike Gates of Babylon by Rainbow, a really strong track all together.

Nomad’s Land is very straight ahead jazz/fusion with noted jazz guitarist Mike Stern shredding his licks all across the track. Again, Derek plays organ very strongly and it sounds like a jazz take of Jon Lord! It’s really strong stuff with a fluid solo from Mike and more organ fills from Derek, this one is another that really impresses, even without vocals. The last track Aurora Australis is also the longest at over eleven minutes and features his Sons of Apollo bandmate Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal. The piece opens with lots of synthesisers and a steady Simon Phillips‘ drumbeat before more Hammond Organ from Derek. All hell then breaks loose with more wild keyboards and a solo synth line from Derek, all whilethe track is gathering speed and pace for a guitar and keyboard battle between Derek and Ron. This has real urgency to it and sounds utterly amazing, musicians at the top of their game reaching for new heights and actually reaching them too.

All in all it’s a great album, you can feel the chemistry that Derek Sherinian has with all the guests and it’s great to hear and experience in this way. I still think vocals would raise the album to even greater heights but, then again, that’s just my opinion! It’s still a very good album that’s well worth listening to.

Released 1st July, 2022.

Buy the album here:

Vortex (lnk.to)

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