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Jonas Hellborg - Personae CD (album) cover

PERSONAE

Jonas Hellborg

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.02 | 9 ratings

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1800iareyay
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Despite writing the books on bass (literally), Jonas Hellborg isn't one of the first names that comes to mind when jazz fusion is mentioned. This is an absolute shame, since he is one of the precious few who can be compared to Jaco Pastorius on any level, and by few, I mean no more than five (and that's leaving two or three slots open for the future). Throughout the 90s, he crafted some of the best fusion of all time, and he really hit his stride when he drafted guitarist extraordinare Shawn Lane and drummer Jeff Sipe. Personae captures the band only a year away from Lane's untimely death, but you'd never know how much pain he was in by the sound of this playing.

The band opens with the Hellborg standard Time is the Enemy, featuring Lane charging out of the gate and tearing up the fretboard. Then Jonas steps up to the plate for Rag B/B, slapping and chugging his way through a bass solo leading into a bop jam. Personae is another Hellborg classic, a mid-tempo beat until Shawn suddenly explodes. Heretics is probably the best showcase for the band as a whole. It's hard rock feel is interspersed with blasts of pure fusion. Jeff plays a tasteful yet dizzyingly complex solo, while Shawn proves he is one of the few who can play fast, yet with musicality and emotion, and Jonas has another great solo. The band ends things with Hell is Other People and Rice With the Angels, two great tracks that end the band on the same high note that they started on.

Listening to this record is, despite the high energy, almost depressing when you think about Shawn Lane. He effortlessly switches styles throughout this record (to say nothing of his indo-jazz on Icon or his acoustic playing on Zenhouse), placing him head and shoulders above just about anyone in the 90s. He toes the line between musicality and all out technicality better than anyone since Steve Morse and John McLaughlin. Even at his fastest, most complex (see Rice With the Angels), he never loses the beat and never pulls the rug from under the other players. Now, Lane was a noteworthy solo artist before joining with Jonas, but he never really tapped his potential until Hellborg recruited him. Shawn's solo efforts were well-written displays of fusion guitar acrobatics, but the songs never sounded that cohesive because either Lane himself played all the instruments (leading to a bunch of triggered drum sounds and basic bass) or his touring members just couldn't keep up with him. In Hellborg, he has a perfect rhythm counterpart: a man who is without question flashy, but who also can walk that line between histrionics and actual music. Jeff Sipe is adept at playing rhythms few could pull off, yet he never calls attention to himself.

When the songs end, and the band is greeted with an enthusiastic yet small amount of applause, we are reminded that these guys were playing in some club. The sound is so huge and the band is so tight that I just can't help thinking they are at least at a jazz festival. If this is how they played night to night, then Shawn Lane's death hurts even more. This is a killer live album and it shows the Hellborg trio in top form.

Grade: B+

1800iareyay | 4/5 |

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