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Trio shows muscular side of fusion

Time Is the Enemy
Time Is the Enemy
By Jonas Hellborg/Shawn Lane

Bardo Music: 1997

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This review first appeared in the January 10, 1998 edition of the American Reporter.

Time was, "fusion" was a hard-hitting, in-your face meld of rock's driving rhythms and the improvisation of jazz. Heralded in the '60s as the meeting ground between the intellect of jazz and the energy of rock, fusion at one time attracted many of the best, most talented players from both communities – Weather Report, Return to Forever and Lifetime helped redefine jazz, while Yes, ELP and Jeff Beck gave rock an imprimatur of artistic respectability it had never had before.

But as the '70s wore on into the '80s, fusion lost that kick in the butt attitude and devolved into the "light jazz" of Kenny G and "soft rock" that one-time fusion stalwarts Chicago parlayed into millions.

And so fusion kind of disappeared, its place taken by acid jazz and the new swing crowd. But a European trio – Jonas Hellborg on bass and American expatriates Shawn Lane on guitars and Apt. Q-258 (gotta love that name) back on drums – refuses to let go, not only playing the hard-edged variety of fusion but dragging it into the late '90s, adding influences such as rap, punk and acid jazz.

A few years back, they released their first album together, "Temporal Analogues of Paradise" on the small Day Eight label. Almost a full hour, it contained only two songs – these guys are definitely from the Yes school of long, rambling improvisational jams. And while their new CD (on the equally small Bardo) contains a whopping six tracks, the shortest is still a pretty lengthy six and a half minutes.

But there's never a lag in any of these tracks; they play with an intensity that's hard to keep up with just as a listener. And they're all three wonderful musicians. Hellborg, for starters, is as singular a voice on bass as you'll hear – more so even than, say, Stanley Clarke. In fact, he reminds of the late Jaco Pastorious in his ability to make the bass a lead instrument while still helping the drummer set the beat.

Lane's guitar isn't of the same caliber – he'll never be confused with Alan Holdsworth, for instance. But his solos, if short on technique and effects, nonetheless have an ongoing imagination that allows him to continually create new passages over the course of a 10-minute song, never repeating himself yet remaining within the structure of the song's theme.

And then there's Apt. Q-258 (eat your heart out over that stage name, Prince!), who just drives that drum set – hearkens back to Tony Williams' best days, when he led the hard-charging Lifetime in the early '70s, or to Cozy Powell when he anchored Jeff Beck's outfit. A definite Art Blakey influence, Q is just as able as Hellborg to both lead and swing at the same time.

While these guys are never going to be famous (pity that, because I'd love to see Q introduced on the talk show circuit ...), this is some outstanding music – if you can find it, get it.