Frisell is a relatively well-known electric guitarist whose virtuosity has earned him comparisons with Hendrix (though Frisell's approach is more intellectual and less soulful). For this 1991 live date in Spain, which included several reworked Frisell standards, Frisell pared down from larger groups to his longtime core: bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Joey Baron.
Frisell can play with great lyricism, but is rarely content with that alone. "Throughout," for instance, begins as a hushed and reflective piece of great beauty, then expands into more aggressive riffs and high-arcing rock pyrotechnics that remain incidental to the prevailing melody. More typically, Frisell assembles a composition out of short and diverse shards of rhythm, noise, and melody, advancing a piece's overall thrust with brief, dynamic snapshots of sound. A tune like "Rag" emerges gradually, layered with lots of intriguing musical asides. "Crumb" makes an even more tortured jaunt; from a disjointed mélange of curious noodling, scratching and honking effects, and soaring notes juxtaposed with frenetic chording, it gradually works itself into shadowy figures reminiscent of Sonny Rollins's "No Moe" before finally shifting into the Rollins tune. Frisell can even be unpredictably predictable, as in his essentially straight cover of John Hiatt's "Have A Little Faith In Me."
The Clusone Trio's faith sticks pretty much to improvisational jazz and, like the Frisell trio's work, is big on dramatic textural variations. The Amsterdam-based group consists of American Michael Moore on alto sax, bass clarinet and clarinet, with Dutchmen Ernst Reijseger and Hans Bennink on cello and percussion. Recorded at five different concerts in 1993, I Am An Indian is a virtual microcosm of jazz styles, from traditional New Orleans stuff to swing, bop and free jazz, all jumbled into a freewheeling context in which noise butts up against Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin.
In fact, two versions of Berlin's "I'm An Indian, Too"--both of which get around to hard swinging by different, circuitous routes--provide a theme that Moore picks up in his own "Wigwam." It begins with minimalist cello sawing, works through a minefield of scattered aural effects and a slew of percussive textures, into tonal explorations from the bass clarinet, a frenetic segment bristling with rock energy, and finally segues into a lyrical run through Ellington's "Angelica." (Although the melodramatic "Indian" war whoops and tom-toms, however, come straight from the late show and are offered without apparent irony, almost mocking the rest of the piece.) Elsewhere, the Clusones rarely waver from pieces rife with familiar elements, whether Bud Powell's bop or a Brazilian samba, yet drifting on the outer fringes of improv jazz amid aural space debris. Like Frisell, Driscoll and Baron, Moore and company work as a complex unit, and their interplay reveals deeper sonic insights with every listen. (Rick Mason)
P.M. Dawn Jesus Wept
MAYBE IT SAYS something about rap's limitations that hip-hop's most creative acts need to move away from the form in order to expand artistically. While the Beastie Boys, for example, head increasingly (back) toward hard rock and early funk, P.M. Dawn continues its course into the outer space of sonic gloss. Perhaps Jesus Wept, the duo's third album, relies on a celestial combination of airy R&B and acoustic hippie pop to float the Cordes brothers (Prince Be and J.C. the Eternal) into a higher level of consciousness than booming beats and rhythmic rhymes could deliver. Or more likely, P.M. Dawn's musical evolution simply indicates that these Jersey City homeboys are individuals unwilling to be limited or formatted.
Jesus Weptis, in fact, not all that different from the heady potion of English psychedelic synth pop, East Coast new jack sway, and New Age metaphysics the group brewed on 1993's The Bliss Album--only it's much more that way. Prince Be's existential voyage through his religious/spiritual identity crisis is surprisingly endearing, and songs like "The 9:45 Wake-Up Dream" and "Apathy...Superstar!?" are every bit as inventive as their titles suggest. And though the duo's typically heavy- handed production can make the mix sound more like marshmallow at times, mostly the lush string/piano/acoustic guitar orchestrations ("Sonchyenne"), smooth dance beats ("My Own Personal Gravity"), and well-placed samples ("Downtown Venus") make Jesus Wept another exquisite slice of P.M. Dawn's gourmet aural pastries. (Roni Sarig)