Many musicians have live albums out, some of them more than one. Quite a few musicians try to have one or two tracks on such a live album that sound different than in the studio - perhaps a different arrangement, or longer solos. A few make sure they have one or two entirely new tracks that weren't on any studio albums. As far as I know, however, there have never been artists who record a live album with only non-album tracks, all new tracks, songs specifically written during a tour and recorded live. Until now, that is, because Steve Vai has pulled it off...the result of which is no less than 93 minutes on 2 compact discs.

"Alive in an Ultra World" contains a variety of tracks. They range from genuine rhythmic stompers ("Giant Balls of Gold" and "The Black Forest") to movie-soundtrack like tracks of triumph ("Blood and Glory"). There are a few tracks that fit well with the country theme but are otherwise not that memorable ("Being with You (In Paris)" and "Principessa"). There's a mostly acoustic track ("Brandos Costumes (Gentle Ways)") and there's a few vocal tracks that I don't think are too special ("Alive in an Ultra World" and "Light of the Moon"). These tracks are average to good. In between them, however, you will find songs truly worthy of the "ingenious and excellent" epitaph. There's the wonderfully sensitive, beautiful "Whispering a Prayer", for example, the instrumentally interesting "Iberian Jewel", the suspenseful "The Power of Bombos" that works up to a tremendous crescendo, the entertaining "Devil's Food", "Incantation" (first introverted, then busy, chaotic, cool) and "Babushka" (cool, Russian-sounding, including flute and violin).

A balanced album it most certainly isn't. There are high ups and a few middle-downs. The guitar playing is blistering or otherwise worthy of praise throughout the album. The liner notes are an interesting read, and the whole thing leaves a thoroughly good impression.

The album is a musical masterpiece that I don't think will be beaten any day soon. Steve Vai shows that he's simply flowing over with inspiration and talent. And let's not forget his band members, the inestimably appreciated Mike Keneally, Philip Bynoe, Mike Mangini and Dave Weiner. I would have been happy with a 'regular' live album, but this is very, very special. Thanks, guys.

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Written June 2001


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