Vernon Reid has been always been a stylistic chameleon. Straddling many musical worlds, he's just as likely to record with Public Enemy as James Blood Ulmer, Jack Bruce or Lafayette Gilchrist. With a general approach best described as metal-edged reckless abandon, he proves on Other True Self that, as always, he's still capable of much more.
Reid's previous album with Masque, Known Unknown (Favored Nations, 2004), sported a completely different lineup than the group's debut, Mistaken Identity (Sony, 1996). This recording features the same lineup as the second record, with the exception of newcomer Don McKenzie on drums. With a shorter gap between these last two records, it's also less of a radical shift, more about continued development of a group sound.
A song titled "Flatbush and Church Revisited would lead one to expect something urban. Instead, it's done reggae beat and dub style, mixed with a minor-key melody that might be more at home on one of John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture projects. Reid's world view approach is also manifest on the metal-meets-Middle East of "Mind of My Mind. By blending African and American folk traditions, "Prof. Bebey pays fitting tribute to the late Cameroonian poet/novelist/playwright/musician, who spent his life trying to break down sociopolitical barriers.
That's not to suggest that Reid has deserted his metal disposition. "Game is Rigged starts with a rapid-fire theme, before shifting gears into a some head-banging power chords that serve as a solo vehicle for keyboardist Leon Gruenbaumwho proves himself an equal match to Reid's extremes. Suddenly shifting into a bluesy shuffle, it suggests, perhaps, where Hendrix might be were he still alive today.
The episodic "Afrerika begins in progressive rock territory; McKenzie's thundering toms support an odd-metered opening salvo. Breaking into a high speed figure by Reid that's doubled by Gruenbaum on organ, it sounds like Emerson, Lake and Palmer on steroids. As it ultimately settles into a deep funk groove it proves how, beneath this aggressive veneer, both Reid and Gruenbaum speak a broader jazz language.
Elsewhere, Reid proves it's possible to reinterpret music from a variety of sources from a different perspective. Depeche Mode's anthemic "Enjoy the Silence features bassist Hank Schroy soloing over Reid's electric twelve-stringa respite from Reid's frenzied, whammy-barred explosion earlier on. "Wildlife, originally from the New Tony Williams Lifetime's Believe It (Columbia, 1975), is revisited with a harsher stance than either Williams or guitarist Allan Holdsworth could ever have imagined, even though it never deserts its sing-song theme.
For those who can accept more than a little metal with their rock, ambient electronica, funk and world music, Other True Self is well worth checking out.
Game is Rigged; National Anthem; Flatbush and Church Revisited; Afrerika; Enjoy the Silence; Whiteface; Oxossi; G; Wildlife; Overcoming; Kizzy; Mind of My Mind; Prof. Bebey.
Vernon Reid: electric guitar, electronic guitar, acoustic guitar, six-string banjo; Leon Gruenbaum: keyboards, acoustic piano, samchiillian tip tip tip cheeepeeeee, melodica, toy piano, glockenspiel; Hank Schroy: electric and acoustic bass; Don McKenzie: acoustic and electronic drums.
Ambient / New Age Beyond Jazz Big Band Blues Brazilian Classical Electronica Free Improv / Avant-Garde Fringes of Jazz Funk / Groove Fusion / Progressive Rock Jam Band Modern Jazz R&B / Soul Reggae / Ska Straight-ahead (Bop, Hard bop, Cool)