If Uri Caine's first Bedrock album was a warning shot across the bow, Shelf-Life is an outright broadside. The keyboard player's 2001 trio record with drummer Zach Danziger and bassist Tim Lefebvre blended electric jazz with contemporary and neo-retro styles, heading adventurously into a no man's land of beats, jams, and freaky madness. This followup (a hefty seventy minutes' worth) is even more mixed up, aided in no small part by a guest list ten players long.
Depending on your personal tastes and breadth of exposure, the rapid and regular shifts in mood, style, and era on Shelf-Life may be energizing or disconcertingprobably a combination of the two. As for me, it all adds up to pure joy, in no small part due to the music's unpredictability. Caine, Danziger, and Lefebvre are not so reckless as to ever lose control, so individual tracks may wander a bit, but they never get lost. And that's absolutely key. Tightness is a virtue.
"Wolfowitz in Sheep's Clothing" digs into a stop-start funk groove driven by bass and drums and punctuated by wispy threads of trumpet (Ralph Alessi), electronically processed sounds, and keyboard vamps. Neither the rhythm nor the melody dwells in the realm of cliche, and none of it stays in one place for long. Compare the group's sound to the similarly configured Medeski, Martin and Wood, for example, and the difference is night and day: MMW is a jam band by formula; Bedrock is an alliance of three creative musicians who just so happen to hover in this particular zone for a few minutes before taking off elsewhere.
Regular retro trips look backward for inspiration. "Blakey" digs into '70s disco motifs (complete with heavy backbeat, trippy riffs, primitive-sounding keyboard tones, and congas), but layers of continuously evolving texture buoy it far above potential ruts. A similar track called "Sweat," one of two that feature vocals, closes out the album. "Strom's Theremin" sounds uncannily like a decades-old shuffle jam, and the spaceman effects on the monophonic keyboard leads refer directly to the era of synthesis (aka the dawn of the synthesizer).
Luke Vibert, who's probably most familiar to followers of electronic music by his Plug or Wagonchrist aliases, produces and programs three tracks. But they're not all minimalistic exercises in stacked beats, like Plug's late-'90s experiments, but fully fleshed out club bump-and-grinders.
Perhaps the most revealing thing about Shelf-Life is the fact that all the tracks fall in a radio-friendly two to six-minute range, never overstaying their welcome. All the self-conscious movement is going to keep most of this material off the airwavesexcept for college stationsbut the spirit of the music is true to the title. By extracting hipness from dinosaurs past and present, Bedrock's method ensures that this music will never grow old.