Thursday, June 08, 2006

Okayplayer Review : Vernon Reid and Masque : Other True Self

Anyone reading this review is probably well indoctrinated to the idea of Vernon Reid’s unclassifiable nature. Just look at his album dedications on Masque's newest release Other True Self which lists Rosa Parks, Nipsey Russell, James Doohan, and Ol’ Dirty. Anybody that can call out Star Trek’s Scotty and ODB in the same sentence is on his own path. Other True Self is an album at once indulgent in the artists every whim and an honest representation of one mans individuality.

The breadth of influence spreads to include a cover of The Tony Williams Lifetime’s ““Wildlife,” neo-traditional afro-pop with Vernon’s excellent Francis Bebey tribute, “Prof. Bebey,” and even Radiohead. And Masque handles complex arrangements and the split second shift of gears with the united cohesion of an early 70’s Meters. Vernon’s overdriven Santana-esque melody and bass and keys dub groove of “Flatbush and Church Revisited” is steadied by the metronomic precision of drummer Don McKenzie that internalizes the infectious bounce. “Overcoming” reworks the Yohimbe Brothers version recorded by Vernon and DJ Logic. Dropping the sampled breakbeats and placing the guitar front and center, “Overcoming” takes on a dark pulse that heaves forward with a violent striving not present in the original. Reid seemingly at will calls out longing melodies that can cut through bone. The effected arpeggios of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” are absolutely phenomenal, and the following solo is exhibit A for why Vernon Reid is one of the most technically capable guitarists on the planet and simultaneously, one of the most melodic.

Vernon steps aside to spotlight the talents of the band as well. Keyboardist Leon Gruenbaum’s composition “Whiteface” is a distorted 6/8 sledgehammer that lays the perfect foundation for his virtuosic synthesizer freak-outs. Hank Schroy’s arrangement of “Oxossi”, which he previously recorded with Jorge Amorim, is presented here in a beautiful stripped down format using the staccato repetition of the bass as a foundation for the subdued explorations of the band. “Kizzy,” drummer Don McKenzie’s contribution is an ethereal, crawling return to Vernon’s downtown experimental roots.

Be assured that Vernon and company have enough musical chops for half a dozen bands, but musicality is never sacrificed for personal displays of ego. At times there is a sense that every member of the band is fighting for the sonic space to be heard, but it is used as dramatic effect and not an accidental result of unsympathetic self service. Other True Self is a document of what virtuosity could mean to an audience beyond fellow musicians.

– Brian Hull

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