Jeff Song & Lowbrow — Rules of Engagement
(Asian Improv AIE0026, 1996, CD)
by Mike Ezzo, Published 1997-05-01
On paper, a project such as this one would likely scare off the majority of Exposé readers — an entire CD of nine lengthy and involved free-form pieces. The problem of where to edit assumes paramount importance with improvisation. Admittedly it does elude them on occasion, as improv is wont to do, and a few of their efforts suffer from an excess of soloing. But what is significant about Rules of Engagement is that it represents non-jazz- oriented improvisation. This achieves its character by drawing more upon rock, classical, and ethnic sources. Rather than inviting a myriad guests, they simply intimate the sense of Asian cultures in the music, indulging a longing to explore other traditions, leaving authenticity for someone else to pursue. Instrumental in helming this exploration, in my opinion, is their percussionist. John Mettam, the man in question, uses cymbals quite sparingly, and when he does it's almost never orthodox. A strict drum beat pops up no more than once over the entire span of Rules of Engagement. He has a great sense of space and appropriateness in choosing the timbres and colors when accompanying, and when leading as well. This inspired player seems a bottomless well of ideas and approaches; their music would be decidedly different without him. Perhaps unlikely to accrue any new converts to the free improv world, this outing is still a unique slant on the genre, if for no other reason than Lowbrow's collective sense of restraint. Tendencies for rambling are surprisingly few while dynamically they keep it pretty well under a dull roar for the bulk of the recording. This would be sure to startle anyone expecting an Ornette Coleman free jazz blow-out session. And they infuse the work with enough contrast instrumentally to avert wearing the listener out. Solo cello pops in surprisingly, with drum backing on "The Dragon Song." It could pass for Japanese or Korean if you stretch the imagination. It also features some nice duet work; the most song-like piece, reminding me of bits of Zappa's The Grand Wazoo. Cellist Matt Turner doubles on piano and a fine performance he does put in there as well — thoughtful, expressive playing, with a strong sensitivity to texture and color. For those who may be scared off from improvisation because of its usual dominance by jazz musicians, I recommend this one.
Related artist(s): Jeff Song
Ginger Baker RIP – Legendary English drummer Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80. After coming to fame with Cream in the 60s alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, he became one of the most recognized and influential drummers of the rock era. On September 25, his family announced that he was critically ill, and on October 6 his death was confirmed. » Read more
Alex's Hand Seeks Spa Treatment – American / European band Alex's Hand has a new album in the works called Hungarian Spa, which looks to be their biggest and best yet, featuring a large roster of guest musicians. They're seeking funding to take the project on the road, and are looking for help from the crowd of wisdom. » Read more
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more