Adrian Belew Power Trio – e (2009)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Guitarists who played in Frank Zappa’s band early in their career (Steve Vai, Mike Keneally) usually go on to greater success but like their old mentor, take paths not usually taken by rock stars. Adrian Belew falls squarely into that category. He was already good enough when he left The Mothers to tour and record with David Bowie, The Talking Heads and The Tom Tom Club. Ultimately, he ended up in a band being put together by another guitar giant Robert Fripp and the resulting outfit was impressive enough for Fripp to resurrect the hallowed King Crimson moniker. But Belew had other sides he wanted to showcase, so he recorded with some old acquaintances from his old stomping grounds in Cincinnati (The Bears), and made a slew of solo albums, sometimes recording them at a breakneck pace.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Adrian Belew talks about the future of King Crimson, his brilliant orchestral reimaging of ‘e,’ and attending the Frank Zappa School of Rock.]

Nowadays, Belew’s main labor of love is his Power Trio. Even though he probably could have had his choice of big name musicians to fill in the bass and drums roles, Belew plucked the brother and sister combo of Eric and Julie Slick out of obscurity instead, much as Frank Zappa put Belew himself on the road to the big leagues when Zappa discovered him back in 1977. Likewise, Belew was impressed with his first meeting with the Slick siblings when he performed with them at the Paul Green School of Rock (yes, the school that inspired the Jack Black movie) in February, 2006. A mere three months later, Belew announced he was forming his Power Trio with them, and the three soon afterwards toured both domestically and abroad for the next two-plus years before laying down the tracks for e in early 2009.

The Slicks weren’t brought on board to perform simple, melodic power-pop of the Beatles that Belew admires, but to play the challenging and unpredictable instrumental rock that has much more in common with King Crimson. Listening to e, you can’t detect any irony at all in the band’s name. It’s 11 tracks all named after alphabetical letters (“a”, “b”, “c”, “d”, “e”). Some of the letters are broken out into suites (“a”, “a2”, “a3”) and it’s all composed by Belew. At the same time, the pieces were performed live in the studio, although Belew layers in effects so deftly, it often sounds like five-peice band, not a trio. “c” is the most killer track, a repeating pattern of chord ascents and descents that Belew carefully layers and his crack rhythm section holds up with a steady, steely groove that heats up so much toward the end, Belew can be heard shouting “yeah!” in an obvious sign that the band is killin’ it. There’s not single letdown among rest of the selections, though, and it’s clear the young proteges can bring it: check out Julie’s muscular bass lines on “a3” or Eric’s trick snare/high hat work on “e2” (performed live in the video below).

The tradition of older master musicians bringing in players from younger generations into their band keeps the music alive, vital and connected to its great accomplishments of the past. You see that done much more often in jazz and blues than in rock, but Adrian Belew understands its importance, having benefitted from this tradition more than thirty years ago. Julie and Eric Slick don’t have promising vocations in music because they play in Belew’s band, but because they play like they belong in it. e represents the continuation of a long, notable career of one musician and the beginning of what will likely be long and notable careers of two more.

Purchase: Adrian Belew Power Trio – e

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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