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Cross Purposes

Geno Thackara By

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He hasn't had quite such a visible solo profile as some of his past and future King Crimson colleagues, but that probably suits David Cross just fine. He's used to not being a noticeably out-front presence (normal for a violinist in the rock world, after all), but his electrified playing still has no shortage of juice and inspiration. His ever-restless and increasingly prolific explorations have largely flown under the radar—all the better to search out the more exotic hidden corners of the music world.

David Cross
Crossing the Tracks
Cleopatra Records
2018

Cross makes an unexpected change of pace here by not exactly taking the lead—Crossing the Tracks shows him stepping in on a set of pieces already selected and arranged by producer Jurgen Engler. With him acting more as a session player (as he puts it) than composer or project leader, Cross's eloquent violin nonetheless puts his stamp on the proceedings well enough to justify the lead billing. His playing is electric and electrifying, bringing some cinematic-sounding pieces energetically to life. Packed full of Eastern motifs and Indian scales, its trance and drama evokes an amped-up cousin of Shakti scoring a performance for Cirque du Soleil.

It's a half-instrumental affair and the guest vocalists make for something of a mixed bag. A Buffalo Springfield cover gets an interestingly spicy treatment, if not quite enough to escape the inevitable novelty factor, while the wordless take on Leonard Cohen succeeds by bringing out the piece's own quiet majesty. Heavy percussion grooves give Cross a hypnotic bed over which to sinuously swoop and glide. Nothing against the singers, all of which do a fine job in their own ways, but the music's evocative waves and crests are arguably enough to carry the day on their own. The program is aimed at globe-hopping variety, and each piece of Crossing the Tracks makes a little world of its own in whatever far-ranging place it lands.

David Cross & David Jackson
Another Day
Cherry Red Records
2018

Things are in a somewhat more familiar free-electric-fusion mold with this collaboration, and not without a share of further surprises. David Jackson shows the longtime staples of his sound still in evidence—the dual-horn style he adopted from Rahsaan Roland Kirk as well as the electronic processing that made such a stamp on the sound of Van der Graaf Generator—and they're used as always to make the affair feel fresh rather than dated. Befitting the bands they're (for better or worse) still best known for, Cross and Jackson are interested in their instruments' tones as much as the actual notes. The pair makes for an improvisational experience continually oblique and surprising.

Jackson's sax parts aren't melody lines so much as splashes and smears of sound whirled like lines of paint. The stage is set with an oddball mash-up of plodding dub and slightly scary carnival music; from there it's anyone's guess where each track will go. Things tend to subside in the later going—see the airy picturesque echoes of "Arrival"—though that closing stretch also perversely features the duo's most heated duel in the crazy-abrasive "Breaking Bad."

Another Day doesn't exactly groove, though there's usually a pulse somewhere; rather the lines and rhythms play a skewed game of hopskotch with a not-always-apparent logic of their own. Cross and Jackson wring wails out of their respective instruments while generously sharing the lead; when one steps out to make noise, the other is right there providing solid support before it's time to switch. The frisky rhythm section (Mick Paul and Craig Blundell, both of the regular Cross Band) is keenly simpatico with each other and the leaders, always staying in powerful step. Listeners will no doubt follow these names because of their association with arty prog-rock, but they'd better be ready to leave that obvious mold for the uncharted wilds—and the experience is that much fresher and livelier for it.

Tracks and Personnel

Crossing the Tracks

Tracks: White Bird; Kalahari Fantasy; For What It's Worth; Prince of Darkness; Love Me; Into the Oblique; The Light Inside Me; Shifting Sands; Hero of Kingdom; Hallelujah; The Key; Shadows Do Know.

Personnel: David Cross: violin; Jurgen Engler: keys, programming; Sonja Kraushofer: vocals (1), Anne-Marie Hurst: vocals (3), Ofra Haza: vocals (5, 11); Kimerly Freeman: vocals (7); Marion Küchenmeister: vocals (9); Eva O: vocals (12).

Another Day

Tracks: Predator; Bushido; Last Ride; Going Nowhere; Trane to Kiev; Millenium Toll; Arrival; Come Again; Breaking Bad; Mr. Morose; Anthem for Another Day; Time Gentlemen, Please.

Personnel: David Cross: electric violin, keyboards; David Jackson: saxophones, flute, keyboards; Mick Paul: bass; Craig Blundell: drums.

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