Jonas Hellborg – Personae
(Bardo – 2002)
by John Barrett
Each album he makes is an adventure. Jonas Hellborg is always exploring, both the musics of the world and the contours of his style. Before an audience in Germany he shows off his rock credentials, in tunes that are structured but also uninhibited. “Time Is the Enemy” will knock you back a few paces; it’s a loud theme, twisting in Zappalike, serpentine patterns. Hellborg stomps, with a rumbling bass riff; Shawn Lane starts screaming, in high looping phrases. Intensity builds on intensity as Lane keeps climbing; the drums of Jeff Sipe are brash and persistent.
The pace is slow on “Rag B/B”, while the tension is high: Jonas snaps like Jaco, while Lane drones softly like a tamboura. After a minute Shawn explodes, with steel-guitar twangs – the notes are tender, hanging in the air for days. Hear his fingers fly, Hear Hellborg strain to keep up … feel the excitement. The title cut may be a simple bass vamp, but it’s varied and stretched over seven funky minutes. Lane makes like Van Halen on his solo, and Sipe wrecks his cymbals, which makes Shawn work harder. Miles away from jazz, this is a jam-band with relentless drive and full command of its talents. This combination is rare, and it is glorious.
On “Heretics”, Jonas appears to stutter: one note is plucked strong and endlessly repeated. Shawn lets the grease fly – his chunky comp is full of distortion and loaded with attitude. If a ‘Seventies movie was set in a biker bar, the music sounded like this … or should have. Hellborg’s solo is super-fast, snapping all over the place. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of fire in “Hell Is Other People” – Shawn is eclectic, from silky slides to power chords. Jonas turns flamenco on his solo; it’s an eloquent effort, and definitely his best.
“Rice with the Angels” sounds like a horn tune, as Shawn takes a brassy tone and lets it run wild. It sounds like a mewing cat, races for the stars … even makes like a computer for a moment. This group will blow you away, with the best improvised rock I’ve heard in ages. These personae are definitely grata.