Contemporary Jazz

Get Your Vitamin B-3


For Niacin, a neo-fusion instrumental trio featuring musical powerhouses Billy Sheehan (bass), Dennis Chambers (drums) and John Novello (Hammond B-3 organ), 1998's High Bias -- their second release on Concord distributed Stretch Records after a self-titled debut a year earlier-recalled the era of jazz-rock experimentation in the '70s, when genre busting groups like John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and the Billy Cobham/George Duke Band held court.

Having played straightforward hard rock with Mr. Big since the tail end of the '80s, Sheehan formed Niacin as an outlet for his jazz fusion and prog rock inclinations during the mid-'90s. The band's name is a pun on Novello's instrument; Vitamin B3 is also known as Niacin.

All three members brought dynamic resumes into this popular unit, which released its most recent recording in 2005. Sheehan, known by many as the "Eddie Van Halen of the bass," honed his chops working with his first band Talas and later on tour with David Lee Roth. Chambers has played with everyone from Chick Corea and Steely Dan to Parliament Funkadelic and James Brown. Novello recorded with Corea and Mark Isham and played B-3 on one of Mr. Big's recordings.

Speaking of the creative drive behind the explosive music of Niacin, Sheehan once said, "John and I as writers have many, many influences. We've both gone in many directions in our years of playing. And a good part of that is that you have a big bag of tricks to pull from." Highlights on High Bias include the Cuban-spieced "Montuno," the gospel driven "It's The Little Things" and a cover of "Birdland."