Sopko Laswell Pridgen – Sopko Laswell Pridgen (2015)

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The adventurous guitarist Mike Sopko looked to take on a challenge of a sort apart from his Glimpse Trio and created a new, super trio with The Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen and all-world bassist Bill Laswell for a one-of-a-kind project. Sopko Laswell Pridgen (October 16, 2015) is a laboratory in the composing stage, the recording stage and post-production stage.

More to the point, Sopko & his rhythm section created the songs from improvised jams, and Sopko would add more form to it after the fact, often by overdubbing another guitar to the recorded trio. Capturing the mettle of a spontaneous performance while enhancing it with the benefit of hindsight seems to be the aim of this record.

The process greatly informs the product. Vamps or riffs form the basis for grooves that collide with Sopko’s overlaid freakouts. Pridgen plays tricky odd-metered rhythms, Laswell’s formidable bass sets the parameters for the melody and Sopko goes balls-out free to push over the ledge a performance already on the edge.

“Buddy Rich” is a fine example of three musicians doing their own thing on three different streams, and without force-fitting anything, the song comes together in its own: Laswell with his signature, wandering, rolling bass, Sopko’s shrieking guitar and Pridgen’s rollicking rhythm that somehow attunes to both of the other guys. Sopko releases a torrent of tears over the math-metal foundation of “MJ” and what already starts off as a sinister, jagged groove on “Acres” turns into near chaos when Sopko transforms from concordant with Laswell to freakily dissonant. Pridgen manhandles “Grazin'” with a sinewy, circular drum figure that manages to regulate his prolific partners to the sidelines, until Sopko surprises with a Derek Bailey-inspired free acoustic guitar right at the end.

It isn’t all free styling over craggy grooves, though: Sopko prepares a translucent bed for “Daybreak” that enables Laswell to be at his lyrical best. The dream-like “Shades Of Sunny Days” is highly textural, too, but on the dark side of textural. “Praxis” stands out from the bulk of the tracks because its groove is mechanical, almost robotic, but Sopko splatters metal notes all over it and loosens it up.

Roughly half of the tracks contain guest musicians, including Sopko’s Glimpse Trio bandmate Hamir Atwal on percussion (on one track), the keyboards of Martin Dosh and the sax of either Martin Lewis or Joshua Smith. They take on mostly minor roles, except on “Airplane Mode,” which showcases Lewis’ tenor sax improvising alongside Sopko’s acoustic axe.

The music of Sopko Laswell Pridgen is a metal-tinged fusion cake with noise rock frosting cooked with the quality ingredients of Bill Laswell and Thomas Pridgen. Mike Sopko’s experimentation successfully channels unconstrained performance into something enticingly original.

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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