Uri Caine/Tim Lefebvre/Zach Danziger: Bedrock (2001)
Reviews of this one so far have emphasized, basically, that it's a nice little electric record from a guy known for his incredibly innovative acoustic side. Normally, I'd let it go at that, given that kudos are weighing in at the three to four star range and Uri has, indeed, pulled off some truly innovative, landmark stuff in other fields of endeavor. But I must weigh in on this one my funky friends, because this is a Rhodes rekkid, one that clearly belongs right up there alongside the output of the axe's trinity, Herbie, Chick and Joe Z. Now forget about those last two guys because this one is an ultramodern extension on the work of the estimable Mr. Hancock. Make no mistake about it- Caine, Tim Lefebvre and Zach Danziger are huntin' the funkin' heads of Herbie, Paul Jackson and Mike Clarke here- lookin' 'em right in their eyes and boldly staring them down in the new millennium!
It's full of iterations, extensions and reflections of the wonderful games played between Hancock and his Headhunters, Thrust, Sextant, Chameleon, and Secrets -era band mates. Herbie's Rhodes was pushed through a plethora of funky black boxes yielding spaciness, dirtiness, swallowed wah and echoplexed, vibraphonic, head-opening atmospheres. Jackson laid the root down while reaching up into the stratosphere for those funky high note fills and recalls. Clarke, meanwhile, was merely reinventing the language between the snare and hihat that drummers of today are only now coming to understand. I mean, just the interplay between Jackson and Clarke alone is the subject of music school ensembles. Add Bedrock 3 to your required listening list, professor.
And while we're on the subject, how many truly great Rhodes records have there really been anyway, especially in the synth-dominated 80s and 90s? The instrument has enjoyed a resurgence of late, with guys like Craig Taborn, Marc Cary, Brad Mehldau and some of the jamband guys, like Robert Walter, who are unafraid to use it in their arsenals, but usually as a supplement to vitamin B-3, not the main course. Uri hinted at this bag with his tantalizing work on the Philadelphia Experiment, but this is some stone cold...ummm, stuff!
Danziger and Lefebvre are really that good here-talk about exceeding the sum of their parts. These guys honed their game for years in Wayne Krantz's band and have progressed beyond that unit's particular brand of kineticism. I was lucky enough to see a couple of dates when these guys toured with Dave Fiuczynski in support of his JazzPunk Project, which, like this one, operates in a world more influenced by electronic beats, a genre that no live real drum and bass team has gotten more inside of than Zach and Tim. Sure, there may be individuals on other instrument that can do this stuff as well, but none are more joined at the hipor are just plain as hipas Z and T together.
Yes it's a clinic of sorts but more importantly a delight - full of delicious exchanges of groove science between the principals. Dig "Our Hour"'s bass-n-drums groove, and the snare, hihat, Fender bass workout that recalls and builds upon the Headhunters greatest work. Personally, I've been dying for three guys with the skills and courage to take this on. Why? Because failing miserably has been the most common result of all those who've attempted it before, followed by skillful homage, followed only then by what the evolution of jazz as an art form is all about peopleextending the language, developing the lineage, and building on, not merely imitating, legacies.
When concentrating on the precise wheres and whens of how the other instruments are going to take up sonic space in the mix, it's easy to overlook things like melody and harmonic sophistication . Now is the time in the review to recall just who the leader of this date is. If you strip down the bag that Caine is noted for to its essential elements, isn't it really about his sensational ability to expand upon and recontextualize motifs (in his case, by famous classical composers)? No surprise then, that he can build jammed-out symphonies from any number of syncopated, catchy, melodic fragments, as he does here. Dig the left hand voicings and concept. Dig the reverb. Dig the vibe. Dig the extension of the vibe.
"Nymphomania" wraps a classic, Jacksonesque repeating bass figure, incorporating held notes with a descending riff, around successive built-upon passes by Caine, and segues into "Fang", sporting skittering drum'n'bass skills that no electro-wannabes are going to be ripping off anytime soon. Over a different repeating bass line, Uri tosses off line after line of reticulating right hand righteousness, against a harmonic progression played with the left, the details of which I am sure are known to him alone. He just keeps going and going until the next tune, "Skins", is deemed to start. This one features the left hand passing over the right frequently for a superimpositional harmonic headtrip. The first four tunes almost make up a suite-and alone are worth the price of admission.
Cue up "Flagrant Fragrant" for some particularly sick hihat and snare work, with Lefebvre's swallowed bass line eating up the track. The vocal samples and other sounds actually work well here but quite honestly, I'd be thankful if they'd have mixed them completely out of the remainder of the rekkid. Not many live drummers and even fewer drum programmers can do what Danziger does throughout this track, especially its frenetic final two minutes. This is drum science as art people, and it's unfathomable to me that other reviewers seem to have not taken adequate notice.
Notice that I didn't mention "special guest" DJ Logic's contribution here (on two cuts). Without taking anything away from his thing, noting that his contributions here are inconsequential and thoroughly non-essential just emphasizes that the magic-here anyway- is in this trio.
Frankly, outside of Herbie's recorded output, I can't come up with a recording of electric piano, bass and drums that so thoroughly throws down in so complex, yet so tight, yet so accessible fashion as this one. If Uri decides to tour Zach and Tim stateside so the kids can get a whiff of it, he'd better be prepared for some instant audience magnification and modification.
Track Listing: 1.Our Hour 2.Nymphomania 3.Fang 4.Skins 5.Humphrey Pass My Way 6.Flagrant Fragrant 7.Toe Jam 8.Red Eye 9.Lobby Daze 10.J.Edgar Hoover In A Dress 11.Root Canal
Personnel: Uri Caine: piano & Fender Rhodes electric piano; Tim Lefebvre: bass; Zach Danziger: drums & additional sounds. Guests: DJ Logic: turntables