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Virtuoso bassist Jonas Hellborg first came to wide public attention in 1984 when he was selected by John McLaughlin to join the revamped Mahavishnu Orchestra. Since that time he has carved a name for himself as a premier fusion bass artist, deftly blending world musics with jazz and rock elements. Despite a critically acclaimed partnership with ex-Black Oak Arkansas guitarist Shawn Lane for the past several years, Hellborg has yet to receive all the public renown he’s due. This album might not break his name into the mainstream because of its bristling exoticism, but it’s a convincing document of his immense talents.
One of Hellborg’s biggest assets is the good sense to lay back and provide rhythmic foundation when it’s needed instead of bashing out constant 16th-note cascades like so many post-Jaco bassists do today. He can burst into the forefront on a moment’s notice to take the melody or join in a unison line, but he knows when to retreat into the bassist’s supportive role again. Lane is more than capable of manning the front ranks and flaunting his rapid-fire chops, but again he’s not so much of a technique-head that he turns the band into a circus act. Their partnership is exactly that, almost a symbiosis instead of a battle for predominance. Many, many artists could take a lesson from their cooperative spirit as evidenced here.
On this disc Hellborg and Lane are joined by Indian percussionist V. Selvaganesh Kanjeera, who uses the unusual clay-pot Udu drum to conjure rippling tabla-like rhythms behind the two string players. In lesser hands such a lack of variety in the percussion department might prove boring, but his technique and creativity are nothing short of miraculous as he propels the complex fusion of rock and Indian musics. The empathy between the three men makes heads shake as they navigate rapid rhythms and abrupt turns in unison. "Leal Souvenir" is particularly noteworthy for an elaborate theme that is regularly repeated in mind-boggling double-time, not to mention the hysterical bar-trading between Hellborg and Selvaganesh. Hellborg’s brilliance on the acoustic bass guitar is especially appreciable, as that instrument has the habit of sounding cheap and tubby in almost anyone’s hands. About halfway into the track Selvaganesh jumps into insanely rapid scat-like singing, like vocal percussion, which is frequently heard in traditional Indian music but always astonishing. On "Who would you like to be?" Hellborg blasts out Jacoesque 16th-note lines under Lane’s simple melodic statement, then at intervals the two briefly unite for more speedy unisons. In contrast, "Age of the Ladies" is an airier, more spatial and subdued composition that invites introspection.
"Bhakti Ras" features guest artist Ustad Sultan Khan performing on the sarangi, a type of fiddle from the Indian subcontinent. The song is reminiscent of the wailing and groaning of an exotic priest, calling for relief from on high. Utterly exceptional. Selvaganesh’s Udu volleys on the closing track have an almost funky structure to them, bringing a new dimension to this phenomenal disc. While you might not remember the particular melodies of these selections, the pure energy ofGood People In Times Of Evilwill drive your spirit along for hours after listening. This one simply has to be heard to be believed. (For more information on this release and the artists, please visit http://www.hellborg.com .)
Track Listing: Age of the Ladies; Savitri; Leal Souvenir; Bhakti Ras; Who would you like to be?; Uma Haimavati.
Personnel: Jonas Hellborg, electric and acoustic bass guitars; Shawn Lane, acoustic and electric guitars; V. Selvaganesh Kanjeera, Udu and vocals; Ustad Sultan Khan, sarangi on track #4 only.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.