Rob Koral: Wild Hearts

Best known for his blues playing, the guitarist hints in his leader debut (with organ trio) at Akkerman, Holdsworth and Zappa


Rob Koral has most consistently been associated with the band Blue Commotion, led by vocalist Zoë Schwarz, of which he’s a founder member, guitarist and co-songwriter with Schwarz. Blue Commotion have already notched-up a total of nine albums in the 10 years since they formed in 2012.

Now Koral has recruited two excellent sidemen for his solo venture. In addition to playing with Blue Commotion, organist Pete Whittaker has played and recorded with John Etheridge, Theo Travis, Nigel Price and Gareth Lockrane, to name just few. Drummer Jeremy Stacey’s curriculum vitae reads like a who’s who of rock and pop music, spanning a diverse list of names including Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Ryan Adams, Robbie Williams, Noel Gallagher, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond and Gary Barlow. In 2016 he took over Bill Rieflin’s role as the centre of three drummers in King Crimson.

Listening to Wild Hearts, it’s clear that Koral was influenced by a variety of guitarists including Clapton, but also Jan Akkerman of Focus fame and jazzers Allan Holdsworth and Joe Pass. So his own unique style is actually a mélange of all these heroes, incorporating rock, blues and jazz. But in this, his debut solo album, there’s also a distinct element of funk too, as heard on the compulsively foot-tapping opener, Show Me The Way and the self-defined Funky ‘D’.

His overdriven guitar has a stinging tone that’s not a million miles from the explosive sound created by Jeff Beck. But on tracks such as Saving Grace, the overall feel, courtesy of Whittaker’s fearsome Hammond, is nearer to the jazz-rock canon of say, Brian Auger. Koral’s array of fast-attack staccato notes rapidly traversing the fretboard on The Beyond are frequently reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s incendiary soloing virtuosity.

That this is Koral’s first album under his own name is surprising since he’s contributed to over 30 albums by a host of jazz artists, sharing the bill with the likes of Django Bates, Laurence Cottle, Roy Babbington, Gareth Williams and Robin Aspland. In a world saturated with rock guitar icons, Koral has managed to carve out a niche of originality, successfully merging rock and jazz guitar in equal proportions and crucially without falling into the dreaded clichéd axe trap. This instrumental foray affords him the space to stretch out and realise his true potential.

Show Me The Way; Funky ‘D’; Summer; Take Me Back; Saving Grace; The Showdown; The Beyond; Hold Tight (48.35)
Koral (elg); Pete Whittaker (org); Jeremy Stacey (d). Swindon, 7 December 2020.
RKUK Records RKUK001