4 out of 5 stars

Although its lyric-free music and keyboard/bass/drums lineup indicates a jazz approach, San Francisco's OM Trio is closer to jazz-rock. The rhythm section of bassist Pete Novembre and drummer Ilya Stemkovsky drives the music in a harder direction than most fusion groups, adding tensile funk between the thumping rock beats. Sure, on "Tor S" the band can slip into a Meters groove as effectively as Medeski, Martin & Wood, but the trio never stays in one mode long. Their songs are like mini-suites as rhythms, tempos, and melodies shape-shift with deceptive ease. At times reminiscent of Return to Forever or early Mahavishnu Orchestra, the band creates driving, whirling, compelling music that is never predictable. Which is a large part of the band's appeal. You're never sure what direction they will turn, but the musicianship is so crisp and tight it's obvious they are not making this up as they go along. Unlike their live sets where the tunes morph into each other in a long, ever evolving medley, most of these tracks don't break the four-minute barrier and a few don't even make it to three. The trio even adds a guitarist on a handful of tracks, which further diversifies the sound and takes the soloing onus off keyboardist Brian Felix. This is music for the head and feet, at once thought-provoking and thrilling, played by musicians who have established their chops and direction. Although the Om Trio can improvise like a snapping whip, it is more than just a jam band. Living Colour's "Cult of Personality," the album's only cover, is a hidden track, but their philosophical connection with that eclectic band seems more than surface. With roots in rock, jazz, reggae, funk, and space music, they have created a blueprint for their live shows in this impressive and intense studio set. Hal Horowitz