Sunday, May 16, 2004

Vernon Reid won't be hiding behind Masque
By Steve Morse, Globe Staff | May 14, 2004

For Vernon Reid, life is all about the edges. It's about pursuing individuality at any cost, which Reid has done whether playing with Living Colour (which opened the Rolling Stones' "Steel Wheels" tour), collaborating with the Roots and Carlos Santana, producing tracks for James "Blood" Ulmer and Salif Keita, or serving as the driving force behind his new band, Masque, which comes to town next week.

"I'm just trying to find my own trip," says Reid, a nonconformist at almost every level. "There's a very well-studied, adept, very clean profile of the modern musician these days, but there are very few unique characters out there. We've gotten away from that."

Reid has a point. He has a low-key personality, but his character stands out in his music. In his stellar guitar playing, he mixes shredding speed and subtle melodies and bridges progressive rock, free jazz, blues, and what he calls "psychedelic weirdness." His influences run from Ornette Coleman to the Beatles -- and it's all part of the fusion-rock stew in "Known Unknown," the new all-instrumental record from Vernon Reid & Masque, which headlines Johnny D's on Thursday.

"Artistically I've been into a bunch of things . . . I'm certainly not into making the same music over and over," says Reid, the London-born, Brooklyn-raised guitarist who in recent years has reunited Living Colour and made an album with the Yohimbe Brothers, which consists of Reid and DJ Logic.

"This is a dream life to have been in the presence of so many artists known and unknown," says Reid, whose new album is on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, also home to Boston guitarist Johnny A, whom Reid admires. "Johnny is looking for a personal approach in his playing," says Reid. "And those are the guys I like."

Next week, Reid will play a number of the new Masque songs (the group now includes drummer Marlon Browden from John Scofield's band) and likely add a cover of Radiohead's "The National Anthem" from its "Kid A" album. "I have an obsession with Radiohead," Reid says. What kind of musician says his obsessions run from Miles Davis to Radiohead? A unique one.

Vernon Reid A Man Of Questions
May 13, 2004

Vernon Reid doesn't talk in straight lines. The Living Colour frontman, composer, producer and photographer speaks in ever-tightening circles, as if surveying his eventual point from every possible angle to make sure it's exactly the way he wants it. It's a circuitous way to converse, but Reid's digressions result in some fascinating insights.

Take, for example, his thoughts on "Known Unknown." The album is Reid's latest project, and his second record with a group of musicians calling themselves Masque. The first, "Mistaken Identity," came out in 1996. The new album embraces Reid's downtown avant-garde beginnings, with a mix of funk, jazz and experimental sounds on a dozen instrumentals.

"Roots is roots," he says from his New York studio, before leaving on a tour that stops Wednesday in Hartford. "I think that the Masque project, the Masque band, allows me to really utilize my guitar in a more upfront way and look at a lot of the same questions from a different angle from, say, Living Colour."

What questions?

"What is the role of instrumental music? What kind of public discourse can melody have?" Reid says.

If that's not esoteric enough, Reid is happy to elaborate.

"These two records, `Mistaken Identity' at one end in the '90s and `Known Unknown,' they're records that look into ... the nature of reality and identity," he says. "What are the limits of identity?"

Heavy questions. Yet Reid isn't concerned with the answers, if there are any.

"I think any conclusion you have can be countermanded, you know. It's sort of like, at one point or another, people accept the story and that's one of the ideas about the whole American thing," he says.

The American thing in question is the narrative arc of this country's history as taught in schools: the nobility of the American Revolution, the manifest destiny of westward expansion and so on.

"It's designed to create loyal citizens that are at the very least proud and at the other extreme, chauvinistic, about who they are," Reid says.

Fair enough, but what does that have to do with his music?

Quite a bit, as it happens. Reid says his songs are ideas meant to evoke feelings. He points to "Voodoo Pimp Stroll" from "Known Unknown" as an example.

"I remember one time, I was on 8th Avenue, and I hear Curtis Mayfield playing really loudly, like `Superfly,' and I'm kind of getting my groove on, it's great. And the person driving the car - it was a top-down Cadillac - he was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and he was driving down 8th Avenue playing `Superfly' on the stereo. It was like a movie was being filmed. It was like, wow, you're really that guy. It wasn't like he was doing it for any particular audience. He was that guy. He wasn't being postmodern or ironic, he was being pimp," Reid says. "I just kind of flipped that to another place, just imagined, like, a voodoo priest pimp. What would that be like? What would his theme music be?"

There is surely a more concise way to explain all that. But it wouldn't be half as interesting.

Reid performs Wednesday at the Webster Theatre, 31 Webster St., Hartford. Tickets are $15; doors open at 6 p.m. Information: 860-525-5553.

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