Exposé Online banner

Jeff Song & Lowbrow — Rules of Engagement
(Asian Improv AIE0026, 1996, CD)

by Mike Ezzo, Published 1997-05-01

Rules of Engagement Cover art

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.


Filed under: New releases, Issue 12, 1996 releases

Related artist(s): Jeff Song

Latest news

2021-02-14
SoundQuest Fest 2021 – SoundQuest Fest, first experienced as a live festival in Tucson Arizona in 2010 was created by ambient music pioneer Steve Roach. This 2021 event will unite a worldwide gathering of artists and audience members together for a 3-day online event unique in the realm of ambient music. From March 26-28th a continuous flow of streamed performances, audio-video wonder worlds and deep immersion zones will burn bright on Roach’s YouTube channel. » Read more

2021-02-10
Chick Corea RIP – The sad news has reached us that Chick Corea has Returned to Forever, so to speak. The innovative keyboardist and composer died on February 9 at the age of 79. With a career that spanned from the 60s until shortly before his death, Corea touched many listeners with the incredible variety of music he produced in his lifetime. » Read more

2021-01-18
Asia Minor Third Album on the Way – On January 29, AMS records will be releasing the long-awaited third album by classic Turkish-French band Asia Minor. Released last year in Japan, this will be the widespread debut of Points of Libration. The album features original members Setrak Bakirel (vocals, guitar) and Eril Tekeli (flute, guitar). » Read more

2020-12-09
Harold Budd RIP – Harold Budd, one of pre-eminent American composers of avant-garde and minimalism, has died of complications from the coronavirus. Budd came to prominence in the 70s, championed by Brian Eno on his Obscure Records label, with music that blended academic minimalism with electric jazz and electronic music. Much of Budd's best known work was done in collaboration with other artists, including Eno, Daniel Lanois, Robin Guthrie, Andy Partridge, John Foxx, Jah Wobble, and many others. » Read more

2020-11-20
25 Views of Worthing Finally Gets Released – A while ago, we wrote about the discovery of a "long lost" Canterbury-style gem by a band called 25 Views of Worthing. And now we're pleased to find out that Wind Waker Records has released their music on an LP. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

László Hortobágyi - Summa Techonologiae – While not well known in the States, Hungary's László Hortobágyi has for most of the 90s been making some of the most exciting ethno-electronic music available anywhere. Another disc from the...  (1999) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues