Jonas Hellborg

Picture of Jonas Hellborg

The Word

Jonas Hellborg - The Word ©1990 Axiom
1. Akasha
2. Zat
3. Saut-E Sarmad
4. Two Rivers
5. Be! And All Became
6. Poets
7. Black Rite
8. Cherokee Mist
9. Miklagaard
10. Path Over Clouds

Jonas Hellborg is a wacky, innovative, schizophrenic Swedish bass virtuoso. He played with John McLaughlin in the 1980s incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and has appeared on records with Ginger Baker (Cream drummer) and percussionist Trilok Gurtu. But his own projects are definitely the most interesting part of his output. The guy is a rocker among jazzers, and a jazzer among rockers. He plays aggressive distorted bass guitar, subtle acoustic bass guitar, furious slap bass, and everything in between. He has released rather "difficult" - but enjoyable when in the right frame of mind - solo acoustic bass albums, an acoustic-bass-and-frame-drum album, rocking albums with vocals, keyboard/drums/bass instrumental records with the Johansson brothers (of Malmsteen's Rising Force), and incredible guitar-oriented releases with uber-virtuoso Shawn Lane and various drummers. Among many other things.

The Word is one of the most unique records he's done, and like nothing you'll ever see anywhere. Produced by Bill Laswell in a rare flash of brilliance, the record features Hellborg on acoustic bass guitar, the late jazz drummer and fusion pioneer Tony Williams on drums, and a four-piece string ensemble. The material is mostly composed, with a little bass improv thrown in here and there. Far from mere arrangements, the strings are integral parts of the compositions, which blend together Bartok, middle-eastern music, Hellborg-style bass, and Williams' thunderous fusion drumming. The context, writing and playing are simply brilliant, complex, intimate, violent, oriental, and passionate; they even manage to make an obscure Hendrix piece ("Cherokee Mist") sound absolutely brilliant.

This is not everyday music, but a major kick in the senses by one of today's most interesting musicians. His more metal/rock/fusion ventures with Shawn Lane (Two Doors with Michael Shrieve, Abstract Logic and others) might be more recommended as a first introduction to his musical vision - even though the music could hardly be more different. In any case, one can hardly go wrong with Hellborg.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 08/2000

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Ars Moriende

Jonas Hellborg - Ars Moriende ©1995 Day Eight Music
1. Ritual Love-Death
2. Stars Of The Morning Sky
3. Regicide

Three songs. Two instruments. One hour.

Eek?

Not so fast. After all, this is Jonas Hellborg we're talking about, a man who has released several solo bass guitar records, and so this pairing with frame drummer Glen Velez is downright lavish by comparison. In fact there are even touches of throat singing, courtesy of Velez, and Hellborg occasionally runs his bass through a Leslie cab for variety, so Ars Moriende is not nearly as stark as one might imagine.

What's most striking about Ars Moriende is not just that Hellborg and Velez manage to make their small ensemble work and hold the listener's attention for over an hour; after all, both men are extraordinary musicians with equally extraordinary track records. But this album is also a beautiful artistic success through and through, regardless of the instrumentation: this is superb music, with rich dynamics, driving rhythms, captivating motifs and exemplary musicianship.

The overall atmosphere is rather somber, matching the album's and songs' death-themed titles, and the music may sound exotic to ears used to Western harmonies, but no more so than other Hellborg albums such as The Word and Aram of the Two Rivers. As is his wont, Hellborg uses his acoustic bass guitar as both a rhythm and a melodic instrument, playing melodic rhythm lines and rhythmic melodies, and filling out the space in such a masterful way one never wishes there were another lead instrument. Velez' drumming is highly varied and his eerie singing adds interesting melodic touches in crucial spots. The improvisations are so tight and inspired it's hard to pinpoint where the composition ends and where the soloing begins, and the musicians exhibit a keen sense of ensemble dynamics as the music's intensity peaks and drops.

This isn't necessarily an album you'll play daily, as it requires the right frame of mind and the ability to focus on listening; this is definitely not background music. But if you make the time to sit down and pay attention for an hour, Ars Moriende is a rewarding and exhilarating listen that will amaze and surprise you every time you play it.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 12/2004

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Octave Of The Holy Innocents

Jonas Hellborg - Octave Of The Holy Innocents ©1995 Day Eight Music
1. Rana And Fara
2. Death That Sleeps In Them
3. The Past Is A Different Country, I Don't Live There Anymore
4. Child King
5. Kidogo

Swedish bassist extraordinaire Jonas Hellborg sure has a knack for teaming up with equally extraordinaire musicians, as this all-acoustic trio record demonstrates. Together with former teen prodigy and Santana drummer Michael Shrieve and the masked crusader known as Buckethead on the acoustic guitar, he delivers another unusual and supremely interesting collection of mostly improvised pieces with strong, memorable melodic heads and unique guitar parts courtesy of the whacked-out chicken killer.

Hellborg's acoustic bass guitar parts are complex, rocking and unmistakably his own throughout the record, alternating between pensive arpeggiated lines ("The past..."), furious chordal strumming ("Rana and Fara" and "Death that sleeps in them"), headbashing slap ("Death that sleeps in them") and high-speed single-note riffing ("Kidogo"). Shrieve's playing is characteristically very busy and mixed incredibly loud, but still demonstrates an interesting sense of dynamics and team playing ("Rana and Fara"). Buckethead's guitar lines are somewhat buried in the mix, but he provides excellent melodic playing as well as some of the truly freakish high-speed licks he's best known for ("Rana and Fara" in particular).

Thanks to Hellborg's fine sense of composition and arrangement, this album never turns into the blowfest most jazz trio albums degenerate into after a song or two. Its many moods, paces and atmospheres keep the listener guessing and give this record remarkably staying power. There isn't a boring moment on the album; if one were to really want to find fault with this excellent record, it'd be with the overall mix, which favors Shrieve's drums and hides a lot of Buckethead's more inspired playing. But then again, mixing this kind of acoustic lineup is tremendously difficult, and each player can be heard just fine, if only with a wee bit of effort and extra attention on the listener's part - which is precisely what the album deserves anyway.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 12/2004

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Abstract Logic

Jonas Hellborg - Abstract Logic ©1995 Day Eight Music
1. Serpents And Pigs
2. Rice With The Angels
3. Pluie De Etincelles (sic)
4. Layla Attar
5. Abstract Logic
6. Put The Shoe On The Other Foot
7. Throwing Elephant And Wrestling

This magnificent album was the first recorded collaboration between jazz/metal/fusion bass virtuoso Jonas Hellborg and piano/guitar über-master Shawn Lane, and ushered in a generally quite brilliant string of mostly improvisational recordings with a variety of talented drummer/percussionists. Kofi Baker (son of Ginger, Cream's seminal jazz/rock drummer) plays rocking jazz drums on this album (or is it jazzy rock drums?), and it makes one wonder why they did not keep this line-up on their subsequent releases.

While the music is very melodic free-form fusion, Lane's warm metal guitar sound adds a very pronounced instrumental metal feel to Hellborg's all-over-the-map jazz/funk/progressive bass lines and Baker's jazzy cymbals. As is traditional within the genre, the songs consist of melodic heads and solo sections, but their fluid structure never makes them sound like tedious, predictable jazz standards. Worldly influences abound ("Rice With the Angels") and give the semi-improvised compositions a refreshing diversity rarely heard on fusion records. Three solo pieces (piano, electric bass, drums) are interleaved with four trio compositions, allowing each player to tastefully flex his considerable muscles without any distraction.

While Hellborg and Baker are remarkable musicians in their own right, the most striking feature of this record (and its various follow-ups) is Lane's superhuman musical talent, both on the guitar and on the piano. His guitar lines, which evoke Eric Johnson and Allan Holdsworth, are always melodic and inventive, thanks to Lane's very distinctive use of wider intervals than are commonly heard on rock/metal/fusion albums. In fact, the remarkable beauty and emotion of his phrasing and note choice render quite moot the fact that he also happens to play faster than anybody else in recorded history. His piano playing, which is only featured on the jaw-dropping solo piece "Pluie de Etincelles", is equally astounding; that piece alone is worth owning two or three copies of the album.

Of all the Hellborg/Lane records, Abstract Logic is the most song-oriented, and as such it is the easiest listen (though it is not easy listening, by any stretch of even the most demented imagination). It is impossible to tire of this album; it begs to be purchased a dozen times so as to keep a copy in each of one's traveling bags, suitcases and hollow teeth.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 11/2001

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