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Sean Malone: Cortlandt (2008)

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Sean Malone: Cortlandt How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Sometimes people become misrepresented early on. Sean Malone first came to attention as the bassist for death/technical metal band Cynic, but has since garnered more notice for his versatile playing with his fusion/progressive group Gordian Knot. That Malone—who also plays the tapped stick—recorded Cortlandt in 1996, not long after Cynic's Focus (Roadrunner, 1993), makes it even more remarkable. Originally a limited release on Audioimage, it's become something of a cult record—and for good reason. This welcome reissue finally brings it into wider release and includes a bonus track that says plenty about Malone's reach—Pat Metheny's "Unquity Road."



But that's not the only jazz-centric track on Cortlandt, an eclectic blend of fusion, classical, progressive, world music and more. Guitarist Geoff Caputo takes the knotty, fiercely up-tempo fusion burner "Splinter" and gives it a dense metal vibe, but it's Malone's high octane, Jaco-esque bass solo that's the highlight. "Controversy" is equally energetic, but with Bob Bunin on guitar, it's a lighter, more swinging kind of fusion.



Half the tracks are trios, with the balance duets and one solo—"Sinfonia," where Malone flawlessly adapts J.S. Bach to stick Elsewhere, Malone fleshes out the landscape with programming and loops. There are some notable guest spots. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels (David Bowie/Tin Machine) lends some edge and filtered sonics to the world music rhythms of "At Taliesin," supported by Malone's percussion loops. Ex-King Crimson touch guitarist Trey Gunn is featured on the atmospheric/cinematic "Big Sky Wanting," another percussion heavy track where the soundscape is expanded by programming from both Malone and drummer Sean Reinert.



Reinert—a founding member of Cynic—is another of Cortland's many surprises—unless, that is, you've heard him with Gordian Knot. Not only can he swing fiercely on "Controversy," but, with Bunin and Malone, he turns John Coltrane's iconic "Giant Steps" into another fusion burner, with a curiously staggered pulse. Clocking in at less than three minutes, Bunn navigates its dense changes with surprising ease and begs the question: who is he, and where does he come from?



While there's plenty of muscular soloing throughout, for Malone it's as much about the writing and creating a variety of contexts, each with their own defining characteristics that still tie together as a whole. "Fischer's Gambit" is undeniably funky, but with ambient textures layered underneath. "Hand Full of Earth" begins as another high velocity vehicle, but morphs into a Fripp-esque soundscape for its final third.



Metheny's powerful "Unquity Road" provides further evidence of Malone's significant jazz cred. Honeydogs guitarist Adam Levy (not to be confused with the guitarist of Norah Jones fame) goes for an overdriven tone, playing bluesy bends that Metheny never would, while Malone turns in a final, impressive solo. It's a strong finish to an album that may not surprise those familiar with Gordian Knot, but will be a wake-up call to those think that metal-capable players are only good for Beavis and Butt-head.

Track Listing: Controversy; Splinter; Fischer's Gambit; Hand Full of Earth; Sinfonia; Giant Steps; At Taliesin; Big Sky Wanting; The Big Idea; Unquity Road (bonus track).

Personnel: Sean Malone: bass (1, 2, 4, 6, 8-10), programming (1- 4, 6, 8), stick (1, 3-5, 7-9), loops (7, 9); Bob Bunin: guitar (1, 4, 6, 9); Sean Reinert: drums (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10), percussion (8), programming (8); Geoff Caputo: guitar (2), vocals (9); Reeve Gabrels (7); Trey Gunn: Warr guitar (8); Dave Wehner: vocals (9); Ricky Wilcox: vocals (9); Kathi Randall: vocals (9); Rick Dill: vocals (9); Mike Dornberger: vocals (9); John Wesley: vocals (9); Adam Levy: guitar (10).

Record Label: Free Electric Sound

Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


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