The record consists of two 20-30 minute ‘movements’ culled from live concerts in Sweden, Germany, and France in 1995. There was some editing of parts together (a la Teo Macero-Bitches Brew), but nothing intrusive. The overall vibe of the music is that of a comfortable get-together of friends who happen to pass the time by chatting with their instruments; occasionally getting into very excited exchanges, and generally agreeing on most topics. The general M.O. of the music is also conversational: Jonas Hellborg and Jeff Sipe (bassist and drummer, respectively) lay down a somewhat subdued, loose, simple yet tasteful groove (the ‘topic’), then guitarist Shawn Lane enters with something to say on the matter (sparse lines, atmospheric chords, ‘melody’). The conversations gradually become more heated as opinions are expressed. From here, the ‘lead’ in the conversation gets tossed around like a hot potato, yet sensitively and democratically. As they tie up what they have to say on the subject, less and less is said, until a new topic is decided upon. Rinse and repeat.
Most of the music here is "collective improv", as opposed to a rhythm-section/soloist dynamic. But there is definitely some soloing going on. Most notably from Shawn Lane. Obviously influenced by masters Steve Morse and Eric Johnson in tone and style, as hard as it may be to believe, he may have even surpassed them in some areas of technique! Quite remarkable. But while Lane does his share of shredding (maniacal speed, sweeping arpeggios, tremolo, tapping, effects, etc.... ), it’s almost never grandstanding. His chops flexing (for the most part) is a natural outgrowth of the building of intensity in the conversation. Lane started his professional career at the age fifteen with the 70s southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas. Since then, he’s played in many varied stylistic situations, and with many celebrated players. Last year at the age of 40, Lane died of ‘health ailments’ all too soon. A sad loss for all involved.
Drummer Jeff Sipe (AKA Apt. Q-258) has a particularly close and intuitive connection to Lane’s playing. Toward the close of the ‘2nd movement’, Sipe begins to cop some of the lightening fast riffs Lane relentlessly throws out into the air. He latches onto them without losing any momentum or groove, and phrases them perfectly along with Lane’s intent. This is the most ‘fusion-like’ moment of the record, distinctly recalling McLaughlin and Cobham’s connection. The production of the recording gives Sipe’s kit a big ‘rock arena-like’ sound which fits well for this context. He’s a well-versed player, laying down solid backbeats and atmospheric pads with equal agility and sensitivity to the other players. Also going by the name ‘Apt. Q-258’ might lead you to believe that Sipe has led a somewhat ‘atypical’ life, and you’d be right. He grew up in a ‘military’ family so they were constantly on the move. He lived in Saigon, Vietnam, and Atlanta, Georgia, and many points in between. He studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston for a short period, and soon after became the drummer for famed Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, but says his ‘individual voice came out’ through playing with Lane and Hellborg.
Bassist Hellborg is maybe the most well-known of the trio, mainly through his collaborations with guitarist/writer John McLaughlin. He was the bassist for Mahavishnu Orchestra’s second incarnation and played with McLaughlin in a few other contexts as well. He has also collaborated with the likes of Buckethead, Tony Williams, and Ginger Baker of Cream. As powerful and ‘flashy’ as he can be, Hellborg is content on this particular record to play a mainly supportive role. He does have one section, however, toward the middle of the ‘2nd movement’, where he takes the lead in the conversation. This ends up being a pretty and relaxed ‘major key odyssey’, with much of his chordal playing and wide intervals on display.
Although there is a bit of high-level noodling to get through on this record, when you get through to where these guys are really connecting, it’s a decent payoff. It made me imagine someone unearthing a never before heard tape of Cream jamming at their house, or a really happening shit n’ giggles tape of Rush one night late at their studio where they’re really stretching and listening. Again, this is a compliment. If you’ve ever referred to yourself as a ‘jazz purist’, you most likely will not enjoy this record. But if you’re a rocker who got into jazz later, you’ll probably enjoy a good deal of this TAP. As for the title of the record, that’ll have to be another article.