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Power Tools biography
Power Tools is a kind of jazz-fusion-avant super group, founded in 1987 by Bill Frisell on guitar, Melvin Gibbs on bass and Ronald Shannon Jackson on drums. Chronologically they could be counted as missed link between two great jazz-avant bands , Last Exit and John Zorn's Naked City. Musically, they manage to blend the aesthetics of jazz fusion with those of free improvisation.

It's an odd mixture; drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson was in the midst of his time with the free-metal-noise band Last Exit, bassist Melvin Gibbs was involved with various avant funk bands (including that of Arto Lindsay), and the pre-Naked City Bill Frisell was beginning to delve into that hazy area between country/Americana, jazz, and noise. The tension between clean predictability and noisy randomness serves as a good symbol of how the group works.

The guitar trio has brute-force, rock connotations, and those connotations were savaged by the group. Sophisticated and formal, the group moved from full-bore, rockish explosions to gentle and fragmented shards of sound, from drifting pastel clouds to urgent, urban grooves. Obliging fellows that they are, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Melvin Gibbs cede this trio to guitar taste master Bill Frisell, yielding his strongest music and their nicest. And they are always funky as well.

During their short life, the trio recorded one studio album (Strange Meeting, 1987) and one live recording (Coiled and Ready To Strike. Live on BBC 1987, unreleased).

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POWER TOOLS discography

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3.91 | 9 ratings
Strange Meeting

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Showing last 10 reviews only
 Strange Meeting by POWER TOOLS album cover Studio Album, 1987
3.91 | 9 ratings

Strange Meeting
Power Tools Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars One of rare fusion super-group from late 80-s, this power trio is almost forgotten by wide listeners. And it's a shame! Because this (only) their album is one of the best jazz fusion recordings from all decade!

Bill Frisell's guitar is recognisable there, and sounds sometimes as his nostalgic-melancholic provincial Americana in his earlier solo works, or as nervous, cold and noisy as his Naked City's recordings. Most interesting, that differently from both mentioned above, on Power Tool's album Bill plays both manners at the same time, mixing them even in the same composition!

Drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson is known from his work with Ornette Coleman and many other collaborations. Melvin Gibbs played with Henry Rollins (!), so you can imagine what a mix is this trio's music!

But, speaking about the album, I think this release is unique enough, whenever such experimental, clever and brave mix is recorded in late 80-s, far not the best time for such music at all. Noisy, very complex technically, with many free jazz elements, but at the same time melodic in places and never too strange or not-accessible to be out of interest of casual fusion fan.

Unhappily, the only release of very interesting trio ( live on BBC, their another recording, was never released). Very recommended as excellent example of still-alive and burning fusion from late 80-s.

 Strange Meeting by POWER TOOLS album cover Studio Album, 1987
3.91 | 9 ratings

Strange Meeting
Power Tools Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by Easy Money
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin

4 stars Power Tools was sort of the Blind Faith of 80s jazz rock, a super group that put out only one album, as if only to show us what they could achieve before disbanding. Bill Frisell was the new jazz rock superstar on guitar via his work with Naked City and his solo albums, Ronald Shannon Jackson's militaristic drum-line approach revolutionized jazz rock drumming in his work with Ornette's Prime Time as well as Last Exit, and in the spirit of 80s NYC punk-jazz, bassist Melvin Gibbs was punk enough for gigs with Henry Rollins, and technical enough for Eddie Palmieri. The three together were incredibly intense, but this trio was far from an avant- garde noise blowout, instead they were often capable of sublime sensitivity and tense calm.

Frisell is more or less the leader here, and his phenomenal guitar technique is more than up for the task. Sometimes soft and lyrically expressive like a lap pedal-steel, Bill's guitar seems too fluent to be a guitar. At other times he stings with a compressed distorted sound that recalls Terje Rypdal bordering on David Gilmour or Jimi Hendrix. The music this trio makes varies from bittersweet impressionistic melodies to full on sonic assaults driven by Jackson's muscular drumming. A typical recipe for some of their best tunes involves a melancholic melody whose changes are repeated in a format known to jazz musicians. As the chords come around the band becomes increasingly abstract, expressive and busy as they drive the initial melody through some harsh deconstruction. Their original tune Howard Beach Memoir is especially gripping as the band recreates the harrowing racial incident the tune is named for with a lonely opening melody followed by a purposefully hopeless improv that can't connect. On another successful track, maudlin chestnut Unchained Melody loses it's sentimental 'chains' and takes on new life under the Power Tools approach.

One of the very best jazz rock records that came out in the 80s, this record is highly recommended. Power Tools joins Quiet Sun and Blind Faith as one of those bands that should have put out way more than one record.

Thanks to easy money for the artist addition.

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