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Jonas Hellborg - Octave Of The Holy Innocents (with Buckethead And Michael Shrieve) CD (album) cover

OCTAVE OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (WITH BUCKETHEAD AND MICHAEL SHRIEVE)

Jonas Hellborg

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.43 | 14 ratings

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Negoba
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Explosive Acoustic Fusion Set Ranging from Good to Otherworldly

Jonas Hellborg has played with some of the best, THE BEST, ever in the last 20 years. It is amazing that some of the most phenomenal modern fusion all comes under his name, yet features vastly different talents and quite contrasting sounds. For OCTAVE OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS, Hellborg enlisted the skills of modern guitar madman Buckethead along with veteran drummer Michael Shrieve (a minor star of the Woodstock festival while playing with Santana.) There are two versions of this album, an original power trio version and a 2003 update which includes gothic choir voices at various spots in the music. I have the update, and unlike some reviewers, I think the voices add to the exotic ambience Hellborg and company create.

I must mention that although I am a guitar shred fan, I am not very big on Buckethead. His signature move is fast chromatic runs both out of time and out of key with the music he's playing. There are very specific instances where this technique makes musical sense, but most of the time it's like an out of place announcement of "yeah it's me, the guy in KFC hat." Fortunately, on this album, all of the playing is acoustic (I believe Buckethead is actually playing a nylon string) and on all but the first song, all of the instruments play much more within the compositions, without the long-form soloing that reveals the individual, rather than collective, musical voices of the band.

This brings me to the difficult aspect of this album. The opening tune, "Rana and Fara," contrasts with the rest of the album sharply. Opening with an almost electronic-sounding beat, the song spans over fifteen minutes and is all over the place. The early drums are extremely out of place with the acoustic sound of the album (? Part of the 2003 redo), and there is way more noodling on the track than on any of the later songs. All three players get extended solos, and Buckethead's are particularly annoying. Again there are a few places where his hammer technique actually benefits the song, but mostly it's his distinctive "look at me, I'm weird" sound. Hellborg and Shrieve's soloing are both nice but unmoving. For me, this track is 2-3 star material.

Then comes the rest of the album, which I would be tempted to rate as masterpiece. These pieces are compositions which use polyrhythms, complex tonality, and intertwining parts to create a dark but colorful exotic sound that is unique to this particular album. The solos exist much more within the context of the song. On "Death that Sleeps in Them," Buckethead's solo spot is tasty and bluesy with just a touch of his "outside" style at the end. His choice to simplify the tonality is brilliant, a musical choice on an abundantly musical album. "The Past is a Different Country" is a slow, beautiful piece where Hellborg and Brian Carroll (his real name, I'm tired of typing "Buckethead") exchange lines with the delicacy of new parents. Carroll is hauntingly restrained, and Shrieve is simple and subdued. The sense of openness in the composition is akin to recordings of jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, simply transcendent.

My favorite track is a fast paced Middle-Eastern inflected piece called "Child King." In perfect contrast with the previous track, the song bristles with excited energy. Shrieve swings away with a superficially classic jazz beat, but adds in plenty of pepper to accent Hellborg and Carroll's fleet lead playing. There is no wankery here, as the players seem to have found enough interest "inside" the exotic scales used. We end with "Kidogo" which has the most harmonically interesting lead motif of the album. Hellborg takes his best solo spot on this one, and the interludes feature intricate, quick melodic lines. In other words, it's a great prog song! The goth choir voices are especially effective hear and send the listener out in a ghostly release of calm. Again, the darkness spun here is neither scary nor cold, it's more angelic shadows of the past, whispers of remembered beauty.

I usually don't dock a masterpiece album for one bad song, but when the artist chooses to lead with that song, and it takes up a proportionately huge part of the album, it's hard to ignore. I actually always skip past the track when I listen to this album, something I rarely do. The album still comes highly recommended. Another Hellborg gem.

Negoba | 4/5 |

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