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Bassist finds groove between jazz, raga

Good People in Times of Evil
Good People in Times of Evil
By Jonas Hellborg, Shawn Lane and V. Selvaganesh

Bardo Music: 2000

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This review first appeared in the January 14, 2001 edition of the American Reporter.

Not since Jaco Pastorious had his head cracked by a thug bouncer in Miami have we heard bass like the kind Jonas Hellborg is playing these days. On his most recent release ("Good People in Times of Evil"), Hellborg pushes further out than ever in his exploration of the musical no man's land lying between jazz, rock and the Middle East. That's some pushing, too, since Hellborg has played with John McLaughlin, Ginger Baker and Bill Laswell, exploratory heavyweights all.

On "Good People," Hellborg's thumping, percussive interplay with guitarist Shawn Lane and Indian percussionist V. Selvaganesh is some of the funkiest, meatiest stew you'll ever hear, drawing on and immersing itself in jazz, rock and Indian raga.

Selvaganesh's vocal on "Leal Souvenir" is an incredibly syncopated cross between rap and scat, performed in Hindi; think Jon Hendricks meets Ice-T over a bowl of curry.

Elsewhere, there's a constant tidal interplay between the two Western artists and Selvaganesh; the sound here is more organic, less forced than on similar efforts from Shakti or Oregon, for instance. Hellborg, Lane and Selvaganesh have a loose jam going (the set was recorded at a concert in India), and it allows for a more relaxed atmosphere. Rather than the usual kind of heavy, overly organized U.N. cultural exchange one often finds on attempts to meld jazz and raga, this is more of a common meeting ground.

Also contributing mightily to the air of creativity on this disc is the fact that all three are not only superb instrumentalists, but fertile improvisers as well. Not only the solos, but even some of the ensemble passages are clearly composed on the fly.

Hellborg's been attempting this kind of true cross-pollination for the last couple of years. "Good People" is by far the most successful attempt to date – and the result is an album that absolutely cooks throughout, with few dry spots and no dead ones.