Bill Laswell, Chad Smith + Jon Batiste – The Process (2014)

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We’ve seen this happen before on stage: a group of notable musicians play together for the first time and magic happens. Sometimes, these chance encounters lead to the formations of new bands. But what happens when three musicians of disparate skills who have never played together before hole themselves up in a studio to make an entire album? We might not have known the answer to this before, but we know it now. That’s because bassist/producer Bill Laswell, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot drummer Chad Smith and the young hotshot keyboardist out of New Orleans Jon Batiste did just that, in intense but fruitful three-day sessions.

“It’s a process, it’s a process,” reminded Laswell to the other participants, as they all pushed themselves out of comfort zones to come up with something none of them could come up with on their own. Inspired by the bassist’s simple advice, the Laswell/Smith/Batiste rendezvous is called The Process, out November 4, 2014 via M.O.D. Technologies.

Batiste’s three nearly solo piano classical-ambient pieces are spread out to balance to the deep, Afro-funk grooves that dominate much of this album. It’s in those grooves where there is found an unlikely rhythm section that time and again comes up with remarkable works of syncopation. Smith’s muscular, tribal circular patterns power cuts like “Drop Away,” “Spiral” and “Timeline,” using rhythmic devices that seem invented for the occasion. Laswell’s counterpoint bass lines complete the foundation, and Batiste, often on organ, adds a soulful component.

The Process doesn’t feature a lot of extended solos from the three — a shimmering piano one graces the end of “Timeline,” but it’s an exception — because there’s a greater emphasis on group improv and integrity. Guest horn players get to express themselves freely, such as Toshinori Kondo’s electric, malevolent trumpet lurks around a sinister Laswell/Smith groove, as Batiste’s Rhodes blots colors on the otherwise dark magus groove. Peter Apfelbaum’s jagged soprano sax is the perfect opposing force to the circular, hypnotic beats, steely bass and the spacey electronic accents of “The Drift,” and his choppy effect-laden tenor sax puts and edge to the softly transmitted “Ascend.”

“Ascend” is actually the second part of a two-part track, which begins with “Turn On The Light,” whose blend of hip-hop and funk-jazz is bridged surprisingly well by the rapping Wu-Tang Clan associate Killah Priest, whose got a jazz singer sense of phrasing.

Probably the most unexpected result of The Process is how accessible it sounds, especially for a project that has Laswell’s essential involvement, even as the three main characters came into this endeavor not knowing each other and how this would turn out. That forced them to rely more on instincts, and Jon Batiste, Chad Smith and Bill Laswell obviously have very good instincts.

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 svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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